Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

July 3, 2014
Homeowners win tax relief for 2013 mortgage debt forgiveness


After more than a year of political wrangling, the Assembly gave final approval Thursday to state income tax relief for beleaguered homeowners who sold their homes on short sales or obtained loan modifications from their lenders last year.

However, the tax exemption for "debt foregiveness" will apply only to those transactions that occurred in 2013, and homeowners who paid taxes on debt reductions they obtained last year would have to file amended tax returns to obtain refunds. The state estimates that the legislation will save taxpayers about $39 million overall.

The federal government exempts debt relief from taxation and the state followed suit in previous years, but a bill that would have extended it to 2013 became ensnarled a year ago in a complex political power play.

July 3, 2014
Lawmakers approve tax credit for Boeing and Lockheed Martin


Despite late lobbying from an aerospace industry rival, lawmakers approved expedited legislation designed to give the state the upper hand in landing subcontracts for a new strategic bomber project.

The California Senate on Thursday approved a fast-tracked measure to grant $420 million in tax credits over 15 years for the production project involving veteran military contractors Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. The measure passed 28-6.

The Assembly quickly followed suit before both houses headed off on a month-long recess.

Assembly Bill 2389 by Democratic Assemblyman Steve Fox and Republican Sen. Steve Knight, both of Palmdale, is meant to help reverse years of industry decline in California. It would provide a tax credit worth 17.5 percent of wages paid to manufacturing workers.

Knight framed the package as a seminal moment for the state to reclaim its status as the home of the aerospace industry.

"Call it an investment. There is nothing unless we get something," he said. "This is an incentive plan that we should be behind."

But critics including Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, denounced the pact as corporate welfare, morally wrong and "not the biggest priority facing California today."

"The opportunity costs in this are just too high for me," added Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, noting lawmakers should prioritize the needs of school children and infrastructure.

July 3, 2014
Perea bill would delay California cap-and-trade for gas

Thumbnail image for pereaedd.jpgDemocratic fissures over California's cap-and-trade mandates deepened on Thursday, with a key moderate Democrat introducing a bill to push back a looming rule expected to cause a spike in prices at the pump.

Assembly Bill 69 by Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, would delay for three years a rule requiring the energy industry to purchase permits for transportation fuels. Lawmakers and critics have been warning for months about a resulting price bump.

California's landmark emissions-reducing law, AB 32, erected a first-in-the-nation carbon permitting program. The cap-and-trade program allows industry to buy allowances offsetting the climate change-fueling greenhouse gases they pour into the air.

The new system has already begun generating millions in revenue, with this year's budget dedicating the new revenue stream to a mix of affordable housing, mass transit and the high-speed rail project championed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

But the coming inclusion of transportation fuel into the program is threatening to push gas prices up, prompting alarm from pro-business Democrats. In a show of broad discontent, 16 Democrats last week sent a letter to the Air Resources Board urging the air quality regulator to delay implementing the new rule. Despite the complaint, all but one of them voted to spend the money the rule is expected to generate.

In response, 32 Democratic lawmakers signed a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown urging the governor to stay the course and bring fuel producers under the emissions regime on schedule. Environmentalists also decried Perea's bill.

"A fundamental redesign of AB 32 that allows oil companies to play by different rules than other industries would not only unacceptably delay action to reduce climate pollution, but could also disadvantage those industries that have already made investments to comply with the law," reads the letter, which bears the signature of both senators and Assembly members.

Perea said he still supports AB 32's overarching goal of reducing emissions but does not believe consumers have been adequately prepared.

"What we're really trying to do on this is create a public discussion, because I'm not sure the public is aware of cap and trade and what it's going to do to their pocketbooks," Perea said.

Editor's note: This post was updated July 3 at 3:40 p.m. to include the letter responding to Perea's bill.

PHOTO: Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, speaks with reporters after a committee hearing at the Capitol on Nov. 6, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

July 1, 2014
State subsidy for aircraft contracts has rough landing

f-35 lightning 2.jpg

Fast-track legislation that would provide a multi-million-dollar state subsidy to help California win manufacturing subcontracts for a new Air Force plane had a rough landing Tuesday in the state Senate.

The Senate Finance and Governance Committee approved the measure, Assembly Bill 2389, but only after adding amendments to limit its effect on the state's treasury, which proponents said could undermine hopes of gaining the project in competition with other states and companies.

The Assembly approved AB 2389, carried by Assemblyman Steve Fox, D-Palmdale, last week in hopes of getting it to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk before the Legislature leaves Sacramento for a month-long summer recess later this week.

It would grant tax credits totaling $420 million over 15 years for manufacturing, including "major first-tier subcontractors," on a strategic bomber project in which Lockheed-Martin is involved in partnership with Boeing. Qualifying firms would get tax credits for 17.5 percent of wages paid to manufacturing workers on the project and Lockheed Martin appears to be the only potential qualifier.

Lockheed-Martin – which has a major facility in Fox's district – other elements of the state's aerospace industry, business groups and Brown's "Go-BIZ" investment office all support the credit. They say the economic activity generated by winning contracts in California would offset the cost.

But the Senate's leadership, including President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, want the money to come from Brown's "California Competes" program of subsidies to new business, which has financial limits, rather than be paid outside the program, which would increase its hit on the state general fund.

Fox and other backers of the bill said placing those limits might undermine California's position vis-à-vis contractors in other states in the Defense Department and refused to accept them, But the chair of the committee, Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, insisted on their inclusion and they were inserted into the bill on a 4-2 vote, sending it to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Updated at 3:37 p.m. to clarify nature of proposed project.

PHOTO: Pilots fly F-35 jets over Edwards Airforce Base on Dec. 10, 2011. The F-35, dubbed Lightning II, is being built by the world's largest defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. Photo: Lockheed Martin/Darin Russell

June 30, 2014
California Senate approves $305,900 for wrongfully convicted man

MC_DELEON_06.JPGThe California Senate on Monday approved paying $305,900 to a man who was imprisoned for a decade after being wrongfully convicted of murder.

The payment spelled out in Senate Bill 1031 is the latest twist in the tale of Mario Rocha, who was convicted along with two others of killing Martin Aceves at a party in Los Angeles in 1996. Rocha was sentenced to 29 years to life in prison. He filed numerous challenges while in prison and in late 2005 a Court of Appeals ruled that Rocha should be set free because he had had ineffective legal representation. In 2008, the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office dismissed the charges against him.

"Mario was wrongly convicted at the age of 16 of participating in a gang shooting even though he was never in a gang. Mario spent 10 years in California juvenile justice system as well as our correctional facilities, our prison system," Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, said in presenting the bill on the Senate floor.

"He proved by the preponderance of the evidence that he did not commit the crimes of murder or attempted murder."

Rocha filed a claim against the state for the wrongful conviction. The $305,900 proposed payment reflects the state's standard for paying wrongfully convicted people $100 per day they are imprisoned after they are convicted.

The Senate voted 27-3 to approve the payment, with Republican Sens. Tom Berryhill of Twain Harte and Anthony Cannella of Ceres voting with majority Democrats. The bill now heads to the Assembly for consideration.

De León said Rocha is finishing up his degree at George Washington University. The Washington Post wrote this profile of him beginning his studies there in 2009.

PHOTO: Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles at the Senate Chambers at the Capitol in Sacramento on Monday June 10, 2013. The Sacramento/Manny Crisostomo

June 28, 2014
Jerry Brown keeps gloves off California bartenders, chefs

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for brownbudget.JPGThree days before health officers in California were expected to begin enforcing legislation requiring bartenders and chefs to wear gloves when handling ready-to-eat food, Gov. Jerry Brown announced Saturday he has signed a bill repealing the legislation.

The measure reverses legislation Brown signed last year prohibiting retail food employees from handling ready-to-eat food with bare hands. The new legislation instead requires food employees to "minimize" bare hand contact.

The original bill was part of a broader food safety code package approved by lawmakers without opposition. Since the bill was enacted last year, however, many restaurant and bar owners raised objections, saying the rule would require employees to constantly change gloves and could lead them to wash their hands less frequently.

"It didn't sound that dissimilar to the existing law, which said that we should minimize hand contact and that there should be good hand-washing procedures," Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, the author of both the original and revised bill, said in February.

After the original legislation passed, Pan said, "we started hearing from local restaurants, smaller restaurants, and also bartenders about the impact it would have on them."
Assembly Bill 2130, the legislation repealing the regulation, passed without opposition, and Brown signed it without comment.

The bill was one of 15 measures Brown announced signing Saturday. Among other bills, he signed Assembly Bill 129, by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, legalizing the use of alternative currencies such as Bitcoin.

June 25, 2014
California taxi drivers push regulations for UberX, Lyft

taxi.jpgOne week after drivers for UberX and Lyft gathered at the Capitol opposing efforts to regulate ride-sharing companies, taxi drivers offered a counter-argument Wednesday. A swarm of cabbies drove their taxis around the Capitol, honking their horns and carrying signs that read: "Let's All Play By The Same Rules!"

Many cab drivers oppose Assembly Bill 2293, a measure by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, contending that it doesn't go far enough to strengthen insurance requirements for ride-sharing companies.

Beth Powder, a San Francisco taxi driver who helped organize the rally, said ride-sharing companies should, like cabs, be required to have around-the-clock commercial insurance for their drivers.

"It's not enough," Powder said of Bonilla's bill. "We have to strike a balance. But thus far it's completely unbalanced with people operating willy-nilly without any oversight."

To build support for AB 2293, Bonilla organized a separate press conference that included the family of Sophia Liu, a 6-year-old who was killed by an Uber driver in a San Francisco crosswalk on New Year's Eve. Liu's mother urged lawmakers to pass insurance requirements for ride-sharing ventures, saying the "company needs to be responsible for the harm" they cause.

Debate over the legislation, which cleared the Senate Insurance Committee on Wednesday, centers on how much commercial insurance the ride-sharing companies should be responsible for when their drivers are looking for prospective passengers.

Another regulatory proposal had called for full-time commercial insurance until its author, Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, D-Burbank, removed the language during a hearing last week.

PHOTO: A taxi driver carries a sign during a demonstration calling on legislators to regulate UberX, Lyft and other ride-sharing companies. Daniel Rothberg/Sacramento Bee

VIDEO: Daniel Rothberg/Sacramento Bee

June 25, 2014
Agreement on California business property tax bill blows up


It wasn't exactly a chorus of Kumbaya, but a few weeks ago, two lobbyists who have battled each other for decades over property tax policy sat together at a legislative hearing to praise a compromise bill.

Lenny Goldberg, who represents the California Tax Reform Association, praised the bill, which would alter the circumstances under which commercial property could be reassessed for tax purposes, as a "step forward."

"I get a little nervous sitting here with Rex Hime," Goldberg told the Assembly committee considering Assembly Bill 2372, referring to the president of the California Business Properties Association. "He and I have been at it for many, many years." Hime nodded in agreement.

However, when the bill, having passed the Assembly, reached the Senate Governance and Finance Committee on Wednesday, Goldberg pulled his support, saying in a letter to the measure's author, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, that it "does not provide real reform" and would allow business owners to escape reassessment with "slightly more sophisticated steps."

Under current law, adopted after Proposition 13 passed in 1978, business property is reassessed only when it changes ownership in one transaction. Goldberg and other critics have argued that it allows business deals to be structured in ways that avoid reassessment, mostly by never having more than 50 percent to be changed in any one transaction.

AB 2372, hammered out in weeks of private negotiations, says that property can be revalued for taxation when 90 percent changes ownership in a three-year period. It's backed by many business organizations as a way of staving off a long-threatened ballot measure that would create a complete "split roll" that treats business and residential property differently for tax purposes.

"We supported it as a means of opening up the discussion which we have always sought," Goldberg said in an email after Wednesday's hearing and committee approval, "but not as meaningful reform.

"Our concern is that, like many bills in the legislature, it projects the image of reform, allowing business to say, 'we closed the loopholes,' rather than the substance, since it in effect grandfathers in the thousands of properties which have changed ownership without reassessment."

Goldberg complained in his letter to Ammiano that his bill's change should apply retroactively to previous transactions that met its qualifications for reassessment. He also complained about amendments on the Assembly floor made after the hearing at which he appeared with Hime.

Goldberg's pullback drives a wedge between him and Ammiano, who has also been a long-standing champion of changing tax assessments on business property. Whether the split is fatal will depend on what happens when the bill hits the Senate Appropriations Committee and, perhaps, the Senate floor.

Were it to fail in those two venues, back in the Assembly or at Gov. Jerry Brown's hands, the long-pending issue might, indeed, find its way onto the ballot in a split roll initiative.

In a related action, the Assembly Revenue and Tax Committee rejected another business property tax bill, one aimed at making it easier to impose higher parcel taxes on commercial property.

The measure, Senate Bill 1021, would allow local school districts to impose higher parcel taxes on business than it did on residential property. Under current law, parcel taxes must be equal amounts on each parcel regardless of size or value.

SB 1021, carried by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, won Senate approval but faced stiff opposition from the California Chamber of Commerce, which labeled it a "job killer," and other business groups, leading to rejection in the Assembly committee.

Wolk introduced the bill after a court ruled a differential parcel tax imposed by one school district to be illegal.

PHOTO: Lenny Goldberg is the executive director of the California Tax Reform Association. Photo courtesy of Lenny Goldberg

June 25, 2014
Bill again boosting California minimum wage fails


With multiple Democrats not voting, a California Assembly panel on Wednesday rejected a bill that would raise the state's minimum wage beyond the boost agreed to in 2013.

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, repeated the arguments that last year drove lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown to approve a bill boosting California's minimum wage to $10 a hour by 2016.

Leno's Senate Bill 935 would build on that, pushing the baseline to $13 an hour in 2017 and then allowing the wage to rise along with the cost of living thereafter.

"If we don't support this bill the outstanding question remains: What are we as the state of California going to do about paying poverty wages?" said Leno, who has called last year's legislation inadequate. "The phenomenon of income inequality and wealth inequality only continues to grow."

Business groups warned that Leno's bill could unhinge a faltering economic recovery and asked lawmakers to wait for last year's legislation to take effect. The hike included in 2013's Assembly Bill 10 kicks in on July 1, raising the minimum wage from $8 to $9.

"It is too much, too soon given that AB 10 is just going into effect next week, and we should allow that bill to implement," said Jennifer Barrera, a lobbyist for the California Chamber of Commerce.

That argument resonated with some Democrats on the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee. Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, the author of last year's minimum wage hike, said Leno's bill would mean reneging on agreements Alejo had made with business interests to not include a cost-of-living adjustment.

"The ink hasn't even dried on AB 10," Alejo said. "You've got to keep your word."

One vote separated the bill from passage. The final tally was 3-2 ( it needed four votes to move on), with Alejo and Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, not voting.

Editor's note: This post was updated at 4:19 p.m. to include the vote total and the fact that the bill was in the Assembly.

PHOTO: Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco during session in the Senate chambers in Sacramento, Calif. on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

June 25, 2014
Jerry Brown signs teacher dismissal bill

brownoaklandport.jpgGov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation accelerating the teacher firing process in California, his office announced Wednesday.

Brown's action follows a Los Angeles Superior Court ruling this month declaring California's teacher dismissal rules unconstitutional, though the legislation's proponents began working on the issue before the ruling.

Assembly Bill 215, by Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, attempts to limit the length of teacher dismissal appeals and contains an accelerated dismissal process for teachers accused of egregious offenses such as molesting children.

Brown signed the bill without comment. The Democratic governor vetoed a similar bill last year, writing in a veto message that he shared a "desire to streamline the teacher discipline process," but that the bill was an imperfect solution.

In a closely-watched decision earlier this month, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu ruled that the state's rules for teacher tenure and dismissal deprive students of their constitutional right to a quality education, finding "no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently in California classrooms."

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at an event in Oakland on Nov. 1, 2013. Associated Press/Marcio Jose Sanchez

June 25, 2014
Governor's bond plan seeks tunnel neutrality


Water bond politics look poised to dominate the remainder of California's legislative session, with Senate leadership and Gov. Jerry Brown billions of dollars apart on the size of a revised water bond for the November 2014 ballot.

But they agree on one thing: the bond can't be about the tunnels.

Earlier this week, the Senate failed to pass a $10.5 billion water bond to replace the $11.1 billion offering approved in 2009 but postponed twice.

In meetings with legislative leaders yesterday, Brown put out his preferences: a bond worth around $6 billion, with about $2 billion for storage (both lower than the leading legislative proposals).

A draft of Brown's blueprint obtained by The Bee also suggests $1.5 billion for water supply and water reliability, encompassing areas like safe drinking water and groundwater cleanup; $1.5 billion for watershed protection; $500 million for flood control; and $500 million for the Delta.

Those numbers likely represent only starting points for negotiations. The document also states a general rule shared by Senate leaders: the bond must be "Bay Delta Conservation Plan neutral."

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, made the case Monday that any bond perceived to advance the conservation plan is destined to fail. The BDCP requires money to bolster the Delta's ecosystem, and opponents of a proposed pair of Delta tunnels fear that a bond with Delta habitat money would therefore help lay the groundwork for the massive tunnels.

Ensuring that there is not a connection between a bond and the BDCP would be in the governor's interest, since it could help prevent a water bond vote from becoming a referendum on the tunnels he strongly supports. Developments in recent days, though, suggest that as the Legislature debates a water bond, the BDCP will hover in the background.

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, watches as the votes are posted for a measure he supported that would overhaul an $11.1 billion water bond on the November ballot, at the Capitol in Sacramento Calif., Monday, June 23, 2014. Associated Press Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

June 24, 2014
California fundraising blackout bill falters in committee


A bill barring California lawmakers from raising money in the final days of the legislative session faltered in an Assembly committee on Tuesday.

Other campaign finance reform bills moved closer to becoming law, including pieces of an ethics reform package touted by Senate leadership that would limit lobbyist gifts and require more frequent disclosure. Ethics issues have taken center stage this year with the suspension of three state senators and a record-setting fine for a prominent lobbyist.

But members of the Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee refused to advance a bill by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, that seeks to nix their fundraising during the frenzied final weeks of the legislative session and during budget negotiations.

Senate Bill 1101 would have barred lawmakers from seeking campaign contributions from mid-May to mid-June, the time when the Legislature negotiates and passes the governor's budget, and during the final month of session.

After initially failing on the Senate floor, Padilla's measure passed on the second attempt by a the required two-thirds margin. A resolution having senators forego fundraising during August of this year has also passed the Senate. The resolution applies only to senators, whereas Padilla's bill would affect all legislators.

The final vote was 1-1, with four members – all of them Democrats – not voting. Members voted to grant the bill reconsideration.

PHOTO: Senator Alex Padilla listens during a hearing in Sacramento, Calif. on August 1, 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Jose Luis Villegas.

June 24, 2014
Leno drops bill to block condo conversions in San Francisco

LENO.jpegSen. Mark Leno, facing stiff opposition from landlords and other business groups, is dropping his bill aimed at thwarting investors who buy up San Francisco apartment buildings and evict tenants to convert units into pricey condominiums.

The legislation, Senate Bill 1439,. was backed by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and other local officials in response to tenant groups that had complained that the condo conversions were accelerating and hurting low- and moderate-income renters.

The conflict has been part of a larger kerfuffle in San Francisco over the social impacts of high-income employees of the burgeoning Bay Area technology industry.

The condo conversions are legal under a four-decade-old California law called the Ellis Act, which was enacted in response to local rent control ordinances that blocked landlords from taking rental units off the market. It allows evictions if property owners plan to exit the rental business.

SB 1439 would have blocked conversions in San Francisco by anyone who owned rental property for less than five years. It became one of the year's most heavily lobbied measures.

After passing the Senate, however, it failed to win approval in the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee when two of the committee's Democrats voted against it in response to landlord opposition.

Although Leno, a San Francisco Democrat, got permission to seek a second vote in the committee, his office confirmed Tuesday that he's dropping the bill.

PHOTO: Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, left, and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, talking to reporters at the Capitol June 19, 2013. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli.

June 23, 2014
Wolk water bond proposal stalls in California Senate


With the governor's controversial Delta tunnel project looming in the background, lawmakers on Monday failed to advance a leading Senate proposal to put a revised water bond on the November ballot.

The Senate voted 22-9 for the $10.5 billion borrowing measure, five votes short of the required two-thirds threshold. It marked the first floor vote on any of a crop of new water bond proposals to replace a $11.1 billion bond placed on the ballot in 2009 and delayed twice.

Republicans who rose in opposition to the measure did not voice a unified reason for rejecting it. Some even sounded hopeful, with Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, saying the bill "is getting really, really close." But the caucus balked at the clout the bond affords to interests in the Delta region, according to Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar.

"The main issue was it was a conservancy, Delta-centric bond," Huff said after the vote. "When we look at our constituencies, most of them are flatly opposed to it."

A withering drought has whetted Sacramento's thirst for a new water bond. Lawmakers have introduced several water bond proposals intended to replace the 2009 measure currently slated for the November ballot. The general consensus among lawmakers is that the $11.1 billion bond, passed in a fall 2009 special session, would fail if put before voters.

As the field of potential new bond proposals has narrowed, Senate Bill 848 by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, has remained one of the leading contenders. Recent amendments substantially bulked up the proposal, including additional billions for surface storage that Wolk and others described as a concession to Republicans.

"We have not done anything in major storage since the 60's," said Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, who nevertheless did not vote for the bond. "This is the time, and that $3 billion is a fundamental, not-to-be-compromised element."

In a weekend television appearance and in remarks to reporters Monday, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, placed Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to build massive water conveyance tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta at the center of the water bond debate. Any link to the tunnels would doom a bond in the eyes of voters, Steinberg argued, brandishing polling that backs up his point.

"You can't pass a bond unless it's tunnel-neutral," Steinberg said on the Senate floor.

Already, anti-Delta tunnel advocates are mobilizing to fight any bond offering money for environmental mitigation in the Delta, one piece of the proposed tunnel project.

The key difference, said Steinberg and backers of Wolk's bond, is that SB 848 would give the Delta Conservancy a central role in managing $900 million for Delta restoration. Wolk has the deepest ties to the Delta region of any lawmakers sponsoring bonds, and she argued on Monday that the 11-member Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy should have a prominent role.

"In order to create a restoration project anywhere in the state, you need to have a local partner. You can't come flying in from 30,000 feet and use eminent domain," said Wolk. "The Delta conservancy gives the Delta community a voice."

That proposition also appeared to give some skeptics pause.

"I would argue to be careful of the amount of money we put into the Delta," Nielsen said.

PHOTO: A flooded rice field, left, reflects the rising sun alongside the Glenn-Colusa canal in the Sacramento Valley, May 24 2013, near the city of Williams, Calif. By Brian van der Brug/ Los Angeles Times.

June 19, 2014
Measure to limit football practice heading to Jerry Brown

Full-contact football practice would be banned in the off-season and limited during the playing seasons for California teenagers under a bill that is headed to Gov. Jerry Brown.

The state Senate on Thursday passed Assembly Bill 2127 by Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, which seeks to reduce brain injuries by putting new limits on full-contact football practice.

"There have recently been many scientific studies that contend that concussions and brain injuries due to football likely contribute to long term brain damage and early onset of dementia," Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, said in presenting the bill on the Senate floor.

Several states have already taken similar steps, Hernandez said, including 19 states that have banned full-contact practice in the off-season.

Though the measure drew no formal opposition, it squeaked out of the Assembly last month with just one more vote than necessary to pass. The measure passed the Senate Thursday on a vote of 23-5 but generated no debate.

PHOTO: Del Oro High School's Trey Udoffia is taken down by a Bakersfield High School defender during their Div. I state football championship game on Dec. 20, 2013 in Carson, Cailf. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

June 18, 2014
Assembly committee rejects Ellis Act amendment for SF

One of the year's most heavily lobbied bills, aimed at restricting the conversion of rental apartments into condominiums in San Francisco, was rejected Wednesday in the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee.

The measure, Senate Bill 1439, would allow San Francisco's city government to restrict or prohibit the conversions of apartment houses if their owners had held the property for less than five years.

It would carve out an exception to the Ellis Act, passed by the Legislature three decades ago to counter local rent control ordinances that barred rental owners from making such conversions. The Ellis Act allows rental units to be withdrawn from the market, and tenants evicted, if their owners go out of the rental housing business.

The San Francisco housing market is one of the nation's hottest, creating an incentive for investors to buy apartment houses (and some single-family rental homes) and make Ellis Act conversions. That trend has drawn a sharp reaction from city officials and local housing advocates, who complain that low- and moderate-income renters are being evicted without cause by greedy investors.

The city is exploring curbs on conversions that it can enact without an Ellis Act amendment, but broadly restricting conversions would require the amendment that SB 1439, carried by Sen. Mark Leno, would provide.

June 17, 2014
California soda warning label bill stalls in committee

California lawmakers on Tuesday turned back legislation that would require warning labels on sugary beverages, voicing skepticism about the public health benefits.

"It's an honorable effort but I feel it's ineffective," said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, who acknowledged that soda manufacturers are prominent job generators in her district. "I think this bill creates as much confusion as it does information. A label which will appear on soda and sports drinks with no labels appearing on chocolate milk, juices or alcoholic beverages sends the wrong message."

Senate Bill 1000 slipped out of the Senate last month with the bare minimum 21 votes needed to advance. Legislators on the Assembly Health Committee halted its progress, with two Democrats voting against the measure and four others abstaining. The measure fell three votes short of the 10 needed to pass.

After trying unsuccessfully in the past to impose a tax on sugar-suffused drinks, Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, this year sought to drain soda consumption by having the drinks bear warning labels. Monning and public health officials backing the legislation called sugary drinks a key culprit in the nation's swollen obesity rate.

"The label is based on the science that says liquid sugar is a unique driver in today's obesity and diabetes epidemics," Monning testified.

June 17, 2014
'Audrie's Law' juvenile rape bill stalls in Assembly committee

The Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill toughening penalties for juveniles who commit sex crimes, dubbed "Audrie's Law" after a 15-year-old assault victim who committed suicide, but the measure stalled Tuesday in the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

Civil rights groups and children's protective groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, oppose the bill, Senate Bill 838, as a major change in juvenile criminal law - especially its mandatory two-year term of incarceration for violation. And those criticisms were echoed by the committee's liberal members, including chairman Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco Democrat.

Ammiano suggested - and the bill's author, Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, very reluctantly agreed - to postpone a committee vote until next week. The measure faces an June 27 deadline for committee approval or rejection.

Beall's measure would expand juvenile sexual offenses to include sex with an unconscious or disabled person, make a crime of disseminating photos of sex crime victims via the Internet or other social media, and require the two-year mandatory terms.

He introduced it in response to the suicide in 2012 of Audrie Pott, a 15-year-old Saratoga high school student who was assaulted while unconscious from drinking at a party. Pictures of her naked, unconscious body were circulated via text messages and the Internet, forcing her - as her parents later testified - to repeatedly relive the humiliating experience and leading to her hanging suicide several days later.

The three 16-year-old youths involved in the assault were each given just a few weeks in juvenile detention. Current juvenile law does not mandate incarceration for assault of an unconscious or disabled victim.

Beall described the current law as "our fault and we need to correct the problem" but Ammiano insisted on delaying action in hopes of amending the bill to get enough votes to move out of the committee.

"There is a sweet spot here, I know there is," Ammiano said.

PHOTO: Senator Jim Beall, D-San Jose during session in the Senate chambers in Sacramento, Calif. on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

June 15, 2014
Lawmakers approve California budget under looming deadline

budgetphoto.jpgby David Siders and Jeremy B. White

California lawmakers passed the state's main budget bill Sunday, less than six hours before the constitutional deadline.

The vote comes after Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders last week reached a compromise on a $156.4 billion budget package for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The spending plan includes more money for Medi-Cal and welfare-to-work and an expansion of child care and preschool programs for poor children. It also begins to pay down an estimated shortfall of more than $74 billion in the teachers' pension fund, puts about $1.6 billion into a special rainy day fund and holds about $460 million more in reserve.

Lawmakers in both the Senate and Assembly were beginning late Sunday to take up the first of 18 related "trailer bills," legislation attached to the budget.

The Senate approved the main budget bill 25-11. Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, broke ranks with Republicans to cast a vote for the budget.

The vote in the Assembly was 55-24.

"This is a much brighter day than what we've seen in years past," said Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, adding that only recent years have lawmakers been able to begin restoring cuts made during the recession.

Among trailer bills lawmakers took up Sunday were items inserted with little public review in recent days, including controversial language capping the amount of money school districts may set aside for economic uncertainties if state-level reserves reach certain levels.

The measure, backed by California's influential teachers unions, was opposed by school administrators, and some Democrats who supported the proposal criticized the late hour at which it appeared.

"My main concern truly is with the process," Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego, said before the measure cleared a budget committee Sunday. "This is clearly a major policy deviation from the way we've done business, and this is something that could have been discussed over the last several months."

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, said, "To say that this process is inconsistent, I think, is somewhat of an understatement and is the politest word I can think of."

The budget's main points, however, were settled by late last week. In a prepared statement Friday, Brown called the spending plan a "solid and sustainable budget that pays down debt, brings stability to the teachers' pension system and builds at long last a reliable Rainy Day Fund."

In debate in the Assembly on Sunday, Democrats and Republicans split on both the main budget bill and several trailer bills. Members of the majority party praised what they called a balanced approach to spending, while Republicans decried plans to spend carbon-reduction funds on high speed rail and said spending on education is inadequate.

"We do not live up to the promises of Prop 30 in this budget," said Jeff Gorell, vice chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, referring to the tax measure Brown and others promoted in 2012 as a new funding stream for schools.

The budget and it's $108 billion general fund are a product of negotiations between the Democratic governor and majority Democrats in the Legislature. Republican support was required for a two-thirds vote on a reserve fund measure in May, but the minority party was largely sidelined in budget talks.

Hours before lawmakers took up the budget, Senate Republican leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said on Twitter, "Usually on Father's Day, I barbecue meat. I wish I could roast a few Dem priorities."

PHOTO: State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, right, receives congratulations from Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, after the Senate approved the state budget at the Capitol Sunday. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

June 12, 2014
Budget deal gives 25 percent of cap-and-trade money to high-speed rail

jerrybrownprisons.jpgGov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders have agreed to a proposal to use 25 percent of future cap-and-trade revenue - money polluters pay to offset carbon emissions - to provide ongoing funding for construction of California's high-speed rail project, according to part of a budget deal legislators will consider Thursday, sources said.

The amount falls short of the 33 percent Brown originally sought but is more than the Senate Democrats proposed.

The use of cap-and-trade money is one of the most controversial elements remaining in a spending plan Brown and lawmakers are finalizing this week. Lawmakers are expected to finish committee work on the budget Thursday, with floor votes Sunday, the constitutional deadline.

Cap-and-trade auctions could generate as much as $1 billion in 2014-15. The deal lawmakers are considering for the $68 billion high-speed rail calls for ongoing funding beginning in the 2015-16 budget year.

In addition to high-speed rail, the deal calls for 15 percent of cap-and-trade revenue to go to other transportation projects and 20 percent to go to affordable housing projects and other programs that help reduce greenhouse gases.

The remaining 40 percent of cap-and-trade revenue would go to various transportation, natural resources, energy and other projects.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks to reporters at a news conference at the Capitol on Sept. 9, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

June 11, 2014
Cops would use gun database before welfare checks under California bill


The state senator who represents the Isla Vista community that was ravaged by a mass murder last month has introduced legislation to require law enforcement to check California's gun-purchase database before going out on a welfare check, and provide grants to help police take guns from people who are not allowed to own them.

Police checked on Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old authorities say killed six people in Isla Vista before killing himself, after his parents alerted them of his violent video rants just a couple weeks before the shooting. The officers did not find evidence that Rodger posed a threat to himself or others.

"Although law enforcement may not have had the legal authority to seize Elliot Rodger's three guns had they known about them, a gun database search could have provided additional information that might have helped them better assess the danger that Rodger posed to himself and others," said a statement from Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara.

Her Senate Bill 505 would require officers to search the state Department of Justice's Automated Firearms System database before checking on someone who may be in danger of committing violence.

Jackson's Senate Bill 580 would provide funding to help enforce California's existing gun laws: $5 million in grants for local law enforcement agencies to take guns from people who are not allowed to own them; $10 million over three years to upgrade the Department of Justice's data systems used to register gun ownership and conduct background checks; and $50,000 for training police in using the gun-purchasing database.

"Both of these bills are about making better use of the tools and the laws at hand to help prevent gun violence," Jackson's statement said.

June 11, 2014
Bill would deny Donald Sterling a deduction for NBA fine


The Donald Sterling drama reached the Capitol Wednesday when a Senate committee approved legislation that would prohibit the Los Angeles Clippers owner from claiming a state tax deduction for a $2.5 million fine by the National Basketball Association for making racist remarks.

Members of the Senate Governance and Finance Committee didn't defend Sterling but several worried aloud whether the legislation, which would apply to any professional sports team owners who are fined by their leagues for any reason, would violate freedom of speech.

The measure, Assembly Bill 877, was drafted by Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, D-Los Angeles, as Sterling was engulfed in controversy over remarks about African-Americans that a woman friend had revealed.

The NBA fined Sterling and has been pressuring him to sell the basketball franchise. At one point, it appeared the team would be sold to former Microsoft honcho Steve Ballmer, but the deal is now in flux.

Bocanegra and other supporters said that allowing Sterling to deduct the fine as a business expense would reward bad conduct, but Sen. Mimi Walters, R-Irvine, said it would impinge on 1st Amendment free speech rights.

The committee's chairwoman, Davis Democrat Lois Wolk, at first agreed with Walters and opposed the bill but then switched and called for its approval. With her support, the bill moved out of committee on a 4-1 vote although Wolk observed, "It's going to be hard to get a signature (from Gov. Jerry Brown)."

The bill might not get to Brown because as a tax increase it would require a two-thirds vote from both legislative houses, which means it would need at least two Republican votes in the Senate.

PHOTO: Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling watched the Clippers play the Los Angeles Lakers during an NBA preseason basketball game in December 2011. Associated Press Photo/Danny Moloshok

June 9, 2014
California Senate passes one fundraising ban, kills another


Responding to an unusual spate of corruption allegations and the revelation that an in-house law enforcement officer had used drugs the night he was involved in a fatal off-duty shooting, the California State Senate passed new rules Monday that will create an ethics ombudsman, update the Senate's code of conduct and ban senators from collecting campaign checks during the last four weeks of the legislative session.

But the Senate also shot down a bill that sought a broader fundraising ban and passed a watered-down political ethics bill that lacks limits on lawmakers' travel paid for by interest groups who lobby them.

In passing Senate Resolution 44, the upper house agreed to give up campaign fundraising for the month of August this year, a time when lawmakers are typically voting on hundreds of bills that affect the wealthy interests who fund their campaigns. In future years, it would ban fundraising during the month leading up to approval of the state budget as well as the final month of the legislative session.

The rule "ensures that members of the Senate are solely focused on legislative business during the most critical times of the year," Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, said in presenting the measure on the Senate floor.

Sen. Alex Padilla, the Los Angeles Democrat who had pushed for a broader fundraising blackout, said he'd keep working on his SB 1101 and bring it back for another vote. The bill originally sought to ban fundraising for the last 100 days of the legislative session. After amendments, it would cover the same time period as de León's rule. The major difference between the two is that the rule applies only to the Senate while Padilla's bill would apply to both houses of the Legislature.

It needed approval from two-thirds of the Senate to pass but failed to garner support from Republicans.

"We don't believe this bill goes far enough," said Senate Republican leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar, adding that his caucus wants the ban to apply to anyone running for state Legislature – not just the sitting incumbents.

Republicans did give some support to Sen. Jerry Hill's measure to restrict how officials can spend their campaign funds and require more disclosure of who pays for gifts of travel, allowing SB 831 to pass.

But the bill had been amended in the appropriations committee to delete three key provisions: an $8,000 limit on travel gifts; increased reporting of "behested" payments; and prohibitions against using campaign funds for criminal defense. Hill added the last provision after Sen. Leland Yee was charged in federal court with taking bribes and conspiring to traffic weapons.

De León, who chairs the appropriations committee, said the cap on travel gifts was deleted because "we have to travel."

California lawmakers were treated to more than $550,000 in travel-related expenses in 2013, according to a Bee analysis. De León accepted more than $20,000 worth of travel gifts last year, including trips to Scandinavia, Mexico and Washington, D.C. Lawmakers help California by making the trips, he has said in the past, pointing to a trip he took to Mexico to meet with officials about drug trafficking.

PHOTO: Sen. Kevin De Leon, talks with Senate President Pro Temp Darrell Steinberg, during the first California Senate session Jan. 6, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

June 6, 2014
'High-needs' student counts fall short in three big districts


California's new formula for financing schools provides more money to districts with large numbers of poor and/or English-learner students, giving local officials an incentive to count as many of those "high needs" students as possible.

The Local Control Funding Formula, enacted last year by Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature, is aimed at closing what's called the "achievement gap."

However, the actual count of those students is falling short of estimates in three of the state's five largest districts, according to a survey by EdSource, a website that reports on education trends in California.

Los Angeles Unified, the state's largest school district with about 10 percent of the state's six million K-12 students, had expected that 86 percent of its students would qualify for the extra money, but has found that just 81 percent meet the criteria.

Similar shortfalls were discovered in San Diego Unified and Elk Grove Unified. However, the hard counts in Fresno Unified and Long Beach Unified were slightly above estimates. The state has yet to release the official counts of high-needs students.

PHOTO: At right, Maiya Miller, 8, hugs Principal Shana Henry on the first day of school at Pacific Elementary school in Sacramento on September 3, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Renee C. Byer

June 5, 2014
Jerry Brown, lawmakers mull incentives to land Tesla factory

Brown_signing_bills.JPGGov. Jerry Brown and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg are floating the possibility of regulatory changes or financial incentives to persuade Tesla Motors Inc. to build a massive battery factory in California, one of several states competing to host the facility.

Steinberg, D-Sacramento, will introduce so-called "intent" language Thursday regarding locating a large battery factory in the state, according to a Brown administration official and Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, who is working with Steinberg on the legislation.

The bill is only a marker, but it signals to Tesla the significance of the $5 billion factory to the Brown administration and lawmakers. Bill language is expected to suggest the possibility of financial incentives or regulatory changes, but it will not say what those might be.

Tesla, which makes luxury electric cars, is considering several states for the location of its "Gigafactory," which is expected to employ about 6,500 workers at full build-out. The Palo Alto-based company has said the factory likely will be built out of state.

The effort by Brown and lawmakers is not specific to a bid in Sacramento County to locate the battery factory at Mather Airport's business park.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The bill comes after Toyota recently announced plans to close its Torrance headquarters. Brown, who is seeking re-election, has been criticized by Republicans for what they say is California's overly burdensome regulatory climate.

Gaines said the Tesla conversations are bipartisan.

"We ought to be doing everything we can to retain that factory within the borders of California," he said.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown signs bills in Sacramento on March 24, 2011 as Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco look on. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

June 4, 2014
Bill would erase Prop. 187 language from California codes


In overturning 1994's Proposition 187, federal courts ruled that California can't cut off publicly funded education, health care and welfare benefits for people who immigrated to the country illegally.

Yet laws on the books in California still include passages that were created by the controversial ballot initiative, prohibiting public schools and universities from admitting students who are not citizens or legal residents, denying undocumented immigrants the ability to access social services and requiring teachers and professors to turn undocumented students in to federal immigration authorities.

Those passages would be deleted from the state's education and welfare codes under a bill Sen. Kevin de León introduced Wednesday. While it wouldn't make any practical difference in how laws are enforced in California, de León said the symbolism is important.

"We think that symbolically it's a very powerful gesture to all Californians that we will remove and completely erase this part of our troubled history with immigrants," the Los Angeles Democrat said during a Capitol press conference promoting Senate Bill 396.

He described Proposition 187 as one of "the most mean-spirited and un-American" measures in California history. Backed by then-Gov. Pete Wilson, voters approved it twenty years ago, though it was quickly invalidated by the courts.

Democrats who are part of the Legislature's Latino and Asian Pacific Islander caucuses joined de León Wednesday in sharing their family stories of immigration, the role Proposition 187 played in sparking their political awareness and praising de León's bill to erase its evidence in the legal books.

The lawmakers also said they are working to develop an advisory ballot measure that would ask voters if they want Congress to overhaul the nation's immigration laws and include a so-called "path to citizenship" for undocumented immigrants.

PHOTO: Sen. Kevin de Leon with Assembly members Das Williams and Lorena Gonzalez at Wednesday's press conference criticizing Proposition 187. The Sacramento Bee/Laurel Rosenhall

June 3, 2014
All but one major California tribe agree on online poker bill


Major California tribes with casinos announced Tuesday that they had reached agreement on legislation that would legalize online poker in the nation's largest state.

In a letter to state Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, and Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles – the authors of online poker bills that had each attracted support from various members of the state's influential tribal casino industry – 13 tribal leaders said they had come to terms.

"As you know, this journey has been long and difficult, but the challenges posed by the Internet demand that we harness rather than cede the technology of the future for California and for our tribal communities," the leaders wrote in the letter. "In achieving consensus for Internet poker, we reaffirm our commitment to the longstanding principle of limited gaming that has guided California's public policy toward gaming."

Notably absent from the letter is the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, a Riverside County tribe that leads an online poker coalition that includes industry giant PokerStars.

The legislation backed by the other tribes includes language that would prohibit PokerStars and other alleged "bad actors" from participating. Critics contend that PokerStars violated a federal ban on online gambling. PokerStars, the Morongo tribe and other members of their coalition reject that.

In a statement, the Morongo-led coalition said, "Efforts by a select few interests to rewrite longstanding and effective policy in order to gain a competitive market advantage or to lock out specific companies is not in the best interests of consumers or the state and will be vigorously opposed by our coalition, online poker players and many others."

Last month, the chairman of the politically powerful Morongo tribe said "bad actor" decisions should be left up to gambling regulators and not written into law,

"If it disqualifies our partner without even giving them an opportunity to apply, we would have to fight that," Chairman Robert Martin said May 22 during an online poker conference in Sacramento.

Major opposition also could come from Nevada casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who opposes online gambling and recently enlisted former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown to his cause.

Correa's Senate Bill 1366 and Jones-Sawyer's Aseembly Bill 2291 both would require two-thirds votes to pass.

Here's the tribal leaders' letter to the lawmakers.

Tribal leaders online poker letter

PHOTO: Darren Yee shuffles a deck of cards during an April 2008 poker night in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee/Florence Low

June 2, 2014
Most bills on Chamber's 'job killer' list have been killed


Halfway through the annual legislative process, scarcely a third of the bills given the "job killer" epithet by the California Chamber of Commerce are still alive.

The legislative year began with 27 measures on the annual list but a number didn't make it out of committee and several others died when they faced floor votes before last week's deadline for bills to gain approval in their "house of origin."

Generally the bills on the list are sponsored by liberal groups such as labor unions, consumer advocates, environmental groups and personal injury attorneys. And while they and the chamber, backed by other business interests, do battle in the Legislature, they are also jousting in this year's elections, with each side trying to nominate and elect friendly lawmakers.

Last week's casualties included measures to impose a moratorium on "fracking" to develop California's oil reserves (Senate Bill 1132), to require disclosure labels on foods containing genetically modified ingredients (SB 1381) and to raise taxes on corporations deemed to pay executives too much (SB 1372).

However, several others on the list survived last week's floor votes, including one requiring employers to grant paid sick leave to workers (Assembly Bill 1522), expanding liability for contractors wage and hour violations (AB 1897), allowing employees to file liens for unpaid wages (AB 2416), prohibiting enforcement of arbitration agreements (AB 2617), allowing school districts to impose differential parcel taxes on commercial property (SB 1021) and expanding the right to sue for product defects (SB 1188).

One major tax bill on the list, making it easier to raise property taxes on commercial property when it changes hands (AB 2372), was modified enough to gain support by the Chamber of Commerce and passed the Assembly.

A number of the measures on the list are either direct tax increases or constitutional amendments that would allow tax increases and that require two-thirds legislative votes to advance. But they went into limbo when the Democrats' "supermajority" in the Senate vanished as three Democratic senators were suspended after being charged (senators Leland Yee, D-San Francisco and Ronald Calderon, D-Montebello) or convicted (Rod Wright, D-Baldwin Hills) of crimes.

Overall, including those that had moved earlier in the biennial session, about 10 of the 27 original measures appear to be alive, having escaped from their original houses, but they still face committee and floor votes in the other side of the Capitol.

PHOTO: California Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Allan Zaremberg, in 2010. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

May 29, 2014
Scaled back preschool plan passes California Senate


A scaled-back proposal to offer public preschool to California's low-income 4-year-olds was approved by the state Senate today despite Republican objections to the $378 million annual cost.

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg originally set out to provide public preschool for all 4-year-olds in the state. But Gov. Jerry Brown did not include the idea in his budget proposal. The bill the Senate passed today reflects the downsized plan Steinberg presented in a Senate budget subcommittee last week.

Senate Bill 837 passed the Senate 26-10 and now heads to the Assembly for consideration.

PHOTO: A teacher leads a song with the children at Carmichael Parent Participation Preschool on Sept. 12, 2007. Sacramento Bee file / Florence Low

May 29, 2014
California bill regulating medical marijuana fails in Assembly


Once again rejecting a measure to broadly regulate medicinal pot, the California Assembly on Thursday stalled a bill that would create a state-level entity to oversee and license California's medical marijuana industry.

No lawmakers rose to explicitly denounce Assembly Bill 1894, by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco. Some with concerns about preserving local control said they had been persuaded that cities and counties could still pass and enforce their own rules around medicinal cannabis.

"We have medical marijuana dispensaries popping up next to schools, we have them popping up all over town," said Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino. "It's not a pretty sight in my community," she added, "so please, sign on to this bill."

But a large bloc of lawmakers from both parties withheld votes, ensuring that the measure would go no further. The final vote was 27-30, with 22 not voting.

California set the national tone for cutting-edge cannabis policies by legalizing medical marijuana in 1996, advocates say, but has since relinquished its lead. While Colorado and Washington have legalized personal pot, California has failed to enact strong statewide regulation.

As a result, Ammiano argued, the state has become overgrown with a garden of legitimate and illegitimate operations. Local governments and law enforcement are frustrated by what they see as a proliferation of bad actors. The oversight falls short of the "strong and effective regulatory enforcement systems" the federal government has said it needs to back off enforcing a federal prohibition that has led to raids on dispensaries.

"There is a general acknowledgment and recognition that the way things are now are not acceptable," Ammiano said. "There's chaos, there's no order, it allows for so many bad actors that the whole issue gets besmirched."

Seeking to equip California with better enforcement tools, Assembly Bill 1894 has as its centerpiece establishing a new statewide cannabis controlling agency within the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The new entity would set minimum standards for cultivation and sales, require registration and fees, and and slap penalties on wayward pot shops.

Local governments could still pass their own ordinances or shut down shops. Lawmakers concerned about local control said they were persuaded the bill would let cities blaze their own marijuana policy trails. Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, D-Burbank, decried the inescapable "waft of marijuana" along a thoroughfare in his district but said Ammiano's measure would preserve a Los Angeles measure capping the number of dispensaries.

"I would have very great concern about any type of legislation we do here impacting the ability of that measure's full implementation," Nazarian said, but he had been reassured the rule could remain in place.

In past years the Legislature has proven reluctant to regulate medical marijuana, in part due to law enforcement opposition. Ammiano's previous attempts to create a statewide regulatory body burned out. Law enforcement groups like the California Police Chiefs Association oppose AB 1894.

On Wednesday the Senate easily passed the bill cops prefer. Senate Bill 1262 would tighten rules around pot-prescribing doctors and compel the Department of Consumer Affairs to license growers and dispensaries.

PHOTO: Members of the El Dorado County Sheriff's Department dismantle a marijuana garden in a remote area of El Dorado county on Thursday, August 20, 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton.

May 29, 2014
California Senate approves changes to initiative process

petition.JPGA bill to change California's initiative process passed the state Senate Thursday with some bipartisan support, setting up the possibility that lawmakers could have a greater role in shaping the measures that citizens send to the ballot.

Senate Bill 1253 would create legislative hearings as initiative proponents are gathering signatures on their measures, allowing lawmakers to negotiate with interest groups before a measure lands on the ballot. It would also require more disclosure of donors giving the most money for and against initiatives.

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg pushed the bill, saying he hears complaints from voters who ask why they are often burdened with lengthy ballots featuring complicated measures when legislators have been elected to set policy for the state. The changes in SB 1253 would allow initiative backers and legislators more time to work out their differences and avoid some measures going to voters, the Sacramento Democrat said.

Some Republicans opposed the bill, saying the whole point of an initiative is to allow people to effect change when lawmakers don't resolve an issue. Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, said Steinberg's bill would take away the direct democracy inherent in California's initiative process.

The bill passed the Senate 29-8 and now heads to the Assembly. Four Republicans joined majority Democrats in support: Republican leader Sen. Bob Huff of Diamond Bar, Sen. Tom Berryhill of Twain Harte, Sen. Anthony Cannella of Ceres and Sen. Mark Wyland of Escondido.

PHOTO: Allen Cooperrider, center, wears a sign saying "Legal Petition for Ballot Initiative, No Genetically Engineered Crops in Mendocino County, " on Friday Sept. 12, 2003 while looking over signatures on a petition for an initiative at the United States Post office in Ukiah. The Sacramento Bee/Renee C. Byer.

Editor's note: This post was corrected at 4:36 p.m. to say that four Republicans voted for the bill.

May 29, 2014
California paid sick leave bill advances from Assembly

Thumbnail image for Lorenaswearingin.jpg

As liberal policy priorities and business interests clashed, the California Assembly on Thursday passed legislation requiring employers to offer workers paid sick leave.

Legislators sent the bill to the Senate on a 48-20 vote. Demonstrating the issue's divisiveness, no Republicans voted for it.

Securing paid sick days for shift workers has been a priority for liberal politicians and labor unions across the country. Assembly Bill 1522 is sponsored by two prominent labor groups, the Service Employees International Union and the California Labor Federation.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, called her legislation a matter of basic fairness that would also keep ailing employees out of workplaces, like restaurants, where they could sicken others. The bill would let workers accrue hours towards days off, allowing employers to cap the total at three per year, and would not affect employers who already offer sick days.

"Most of these workers are low wage and hourly, disproportionately women and Latinos, and they have to choose in their jobs whether to go to work sick and be able to make ends meet or lose a day's pay," Gonzalez said, adding that it would be a boon to working parents who need to take time off to care for sick children.

For business groups and allied lawmakers, the bill would hamstring businesses by chipping away at their bottom line. The legislation holds a spot on the California Chamber of Commerce's annual "job killers" list.

"This bill adds another burden on employers that will make it difficult for them to compete. We just keep piling on," said Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Irvine.

PHOTO: Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, receives applause from lawmakers as she walks down the center isle of the Assembly to take the oath of office at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, May 28, 2013. The Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli.

May 29, 2014
Assembly approves bill for all-mail special elections

votebymail.JPGSeeking to improve low voter participation in special elections, the California Assembly on Thursday narrowly passed and sent to the Senate legislation that distribute all ballots by mail for elections to fill vacancies.

The constant shuffle of elected officials seeking new seats follows a familiar pattern -- a state legislator resigns or wins election to a new office, and a tiny sliver of the electorate chooses a replacement. Turnout in a recent pair of special elections hovered around 12 percent and 8 percent, respectively. Citing the expense, the Senate leader floated letting the governor fill vacancies.

An effective solution, according to proponents of Assembly Bill 1873, is to make mailboxes, not polling places, the nexus of special elections. Voters otherwise unaware that an election is going on would be looped into affairs currently dominated by the most diligent voters.

"It stands to reason that when a voter gets a ballot in their hand they become aware that a special election is happening and are more likely to engage in the process," said Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco.

Under the bill, which was sent to the Senate on a 42-30 vote, special elections to fill vacancies in the Legislature or Congress could be conducted exclusively by mail if the boards of supervisors in all involved counties agree.

While they praised the goal of boosting civic engagement, Republican opponents warned about the potential for voting fraud. They said prioritizing mail ballots over in-person voting would undermine election integrity and raised the specter of partisan manipulation.

"We are all for making sure that the voices of our constituents get heard," said Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Irvine, but "it is not appropriate that we allow for gamesmanship."

PHOTO: Vasili Polyzos, right, and Eli Strong, begin separating ballots at Sacramento County election office on Nov. 7, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/ Renee C. Byer.

May 27, 2014
California Democrats call for gun restrictions after Isla Vista killings

IslaVista.JPGOn their first day back in the Capitol since the killing Friday night of six college students near UC Santa Barbara, Democrats in the California Legislature said the state should do more to keep mentally ill people from obtaining guns.

Democratic Assembly members Das Williams of Santa Barbara and Nancy Skinner of Berkeley announced they will introduce a bill that would allow concerned family members or friends to notify authorities when a loved one is at risk of committing violence, permitting law enforcement to investigate and potentially prevent them from buying firearms.

"The tragic incident in my hometown of Isla Vista is not a result of gun laws failing. Rather it is a horrific example of how our mental health laws and gun control laws are not working together," Williams said in a statement.

In the state Senate, President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said he plans to introduce a package of policy and budget proposals Wednesday that address mental health care, criminal justice and public safety, including more training for law enforcement.

He said he was planning to make the proposals regardless of the Isla Vista killing Friday, in which 22-year-old Elliott Rodger is suspected of killing six people and injuring 13 others before killing himself. But the incident creates new urgency for the conversation, Steinberg said.

Steinberg said he believed Rodger fooled police into thinking he was well-adjusted when they came to check on him after his parents alerted them of a violent rant he had posted online. He asked if the incident might have been prevented if police had also checked on Rodger's record of purchasing guns.

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, a Santa Barbara Democrat, decried what she called a "culture of violence" in movies and video games and a society that has allowed mass shootings to continue. She was among the Democrats who called on the Legislature to take action to prevent more killing as the Senate eulogized the victims of Friday's rampage and held a moment of silence in their honor.

PHOTO: State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, who represents the community of Isla Vista where six young people were killed on Friday, May 23, leads senators in a moment of silence in their memory, at the Capitol on Tuesday, May 27, 2014. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli.

May 27, 2014
California porn condom bill clears Assembly floor


Responding to pleas to address a burgeoning public health issue in the adult entertainment industry, the California Assembly on Tuesday advanced a measure requiring the use of protection like condoms in pornographic movies.

Assembly Bill 1576 garnered the bare minimum 41 votes necessary for passage. Abstaining from voting were several Assembly members from the Los Angeles area, where the porn industry is a significant force.

Protecting adult actors has become a recurring focus for Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, whose attempt last year fell short. Hall argues that unsafe sex poses an imminent health hazard, pointing to a number of porn performers who have contracted HIV. AB 1576 is his latest effort.

"This industry has been largely self-regulated and has done an inadequate job of protecting its employees," Hall argued on the Assembly floor. "We need to begin to treat the adult film industry just like any other legitimate, legal business in California," he added. "Legitimate businesses are required to protect employees from injury in the workplace."

Opposing the bill is California's powerful adult entertainment industry, represented by a group called the Free Speech Coalition. Rigorous testing for sexually transmitted diseases makes Hall's bill unnecessary, they contend. They warn that new restrictions would muffle an economic engine that generates $9 to $13 billion a year, according to a committee analysis.

Los Angeles County already requires condom use for adult movies filmed within county lines. If the rule blankets all of California, according to opponents like the Valley
Industry and Commerce Association, pornographic movies will join the trend of film productions relocating to other states.

Industry critics have also raised constitutional issues with the testing regimen, administered by California's Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, the bill would mandate. Studios would need to document that employees had consented to the release of testing data, an imperative skeptics called unworkable for employers.

"What this is is a mandate, and this is a mandate that I'm afraid these businesses are going to have trouble meeting," said Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks.

PHOTO: A health educator with the County of Sacramento opens a packet that includes condoms and information to get tested for SDTs during a public health fair at Sacramento State on April 12, 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling.

May 23, 2014
Bill to extend health care to undocumented immigrants stalls

Lara_undocumented_students.JPGA bill to extend subsidized health benefits to undocumented immigrants stalled in the state Senate on Friday, but could be revived if its supporters identify a way to pay for the expansion.

Senate Bill 1005 aims to close a gap in the federal health care overhaul, which only makes insurance plans available to those in the country legally. Authored by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, the measure would open Medi-Cal to undocumented immigrants as well as create a marketplace for new plans.

California counties currently provide health care to undocumented immigrants, but the coverage varies greatly among counties.

Health advocates contend the legislation is needed to fully achieve the promises of the federal Affordable Care Act in California. Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, and chairman of the upper house's fiscal committee, described a "two-tiered" system that discriminates against millions of people that but "for lack of paperwork are Americans."

"SB 1005 is a necessary measure, but we need to continue to find responsible funding sources so that we don't already over-strain our safety net, and make sure it doesn't come apart," de León said.

Lara and advocates were given the summer to develop a funding mechanism for the expansion. At the hearing, Lara said he respected the decision.

"Expanding healthcare for all Californians is not a question of if but ... a matter of when," he said.

PHOTO: Sen. Ricardo Lara is joined, left to right, by UC Davis student Ana Maciel, UC President Janet Napolitano, Sacramento State student Deisy Caro and Sacramento State President Alexander Gonzalez at the State Capitol on April 9. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

May 19, 2014
Senate approves bill to halve gifts to lawmakers

deleonethics.JPGThe California Senate on Monday advanced a measure to crack down on special-interest gifts to lawmakers.

The upper house unanimously passed Senate Bill 1443. It would reduce the value of gifts officials can receive from a single source to $200 from the current $440.

Sen. Kevin de León, the author of the measure, said it amounted to one of the most significant reforms since passage of the Political Reform Act of 1974. It follows federal corruption charges against Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, and Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, and a record fine by the state ethics watchdog against lobbyist Kevin Sloat for hosting fundraisers at his Sacramento home.

De León's bill would ban all gifts from lobbyists (they currently can give a gift of up to $10 a month to each elected official), and prohibit elected officials from accepting certain gifts that the author believes lack legislative merit. Such gifts include tickets to concerts, sports venues and amusement parks; spa services and rounds of golf; cash and gift cards.

The bill is part of a package of proposed changes that, among other things, would ban campaign fundraisers at lobbyists' homes and require fundraising committees to file campaign finance reports four times a year.

PHOTO: Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, talks about the proposed California Accountability in Public Service Act during a Capitol news conference where he and other Democratic lawmakers announced a package of bills intended to impose new rules on public officials, on March 6, 2014. At right is State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and at left is Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens. The Sacramento Bee/ Renée C. Byer

May 19, 2014
Moody's praises California for rainy-day fund proposal


Lawmakers' passage of "rainy-day fund" legislation championed by Gov. Jerry Brown won plaudits Monday from Moody's Investors Service, a major credit rating house.

"This credit positive development reflects the new emphasis that California...places on building reserve to cushion its finances from economic downturns," Moody's says in its periodic bulletin on credit trends.

The bulletin, echoing Brown's words, notes that California has had many more deficit budgets in recent years than positively balanced ones, citing the state's historic tendency to spend windfall revenues rather than save them.

The reserve fund would absorb some state revenues and make them available during an economic downturn. Last week's measure, ACA 1 in the second extraordinary session, was approved overwhelmingly by the Legislature, but still must be ratified by voters in November. Moody's current credit rating for California is A1 stable.

PHOTO: California Gov. Jerry Brown and then-Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez appear before the Assembly Budget Committee on April 28 to talk about ACA 1 in the second extraordinary session.

May 14, 2014
Jerry Brown signs law requiring political nonprofits identify donors


Nonprofit organizations that make political contributions in California will have to disclose more information about the source of their money under a law Gov. Jerry Brown signed Wednesday.

Senate Bill 27 was inspired by the 2012 ballot measure wars in California, when two out-of-state nonprofit groups poured $15 million into fighting Proposition 30 and supporting Proposition 32. Because of the groups' nonprofit status, they were not required to report where their donations originally came from, leading some to describe the contributions as "dark money."

The state's political watchdog went after the groups and secured a $1 million settlement last fall when the Arizona nonprofits acknowledged an error in campaign finance reporting. But requiring politically-active nonprofits to disclose their donors required a change of state law.

And that's where Sen. Lou Correa's SB 27 comes in. The bill by the Santa Ana Democrat requires nonprofit groups disclose the names of donors who give them $1,000 or more to spend on political activity in California, if the group makes contributions of more than $50,000 in a year, or $100,000 over four years. The disclosure requirement kicks in with donations made after July 1 of this year.

The bill was sponsored by the state's Fair Political Practices Commission and supported by many open-government groups, including the California Clean Money Campaign, California Common Cause, California Forward, California Voter Foundation, and the League of Women Voters of California. Supporters hope the bill will have a ripple effect nationwide.

"Governor Brown's signature of SB 27 marks a turning point in the fight to reveal secret funders of political campaigns. It starts to shed light on dark money in California and serves as an example for the entire nation," said a statement from Trent Lange, President of the California Clean Money Campaign. "We must strengthen disclosure laws even further, because voters deserve to know who's trying to influence their votes."

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, hugs Senator Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, as the Senates passes the California State budget plan. Photo taken Thursday Feb. 19, 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer.

May 14, 2014
California plastic bag ban bill clears first committee


In its first test since a deal brought formerly opposed lawmakers on board, a bill banning single-use plastic bags in California passed the Assembly Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday.

The Legislature has discarded the last few attempts to cut down on waste by banning single-use plastic bags. The most recent failure came last year on the Senate floor, where Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, was unable to muster enough votes as fellow Democrats balked.

Since then some of those Democrats have come around to support Padilla's new Senate Bill 270, encouraged by a deal offering $2 million to retrain displaced factory workers. Bag manufacturing plants are major employers in the districts of Sens. Kevin de León and Ricardo Lara, both of whom voted against last year's measure but are co-authors of the latest iteration.

"It is my strong belief that we can find a way to balance the health of our planet with the preservation of peoples' livelihoods," de León testified, adding that the bill "moves the economy forward into a green future."

Representatives of major corporations like RiteAid and Target lined up to voice support for the legislation. The California Grocers Association also backed the bill, saying a single statewide standard is preferable to a bewildering garden of different municipal ordinances. There are currently over 100. Padilla pointed to that proliferation as a sign the policy's time has come.

"Opponents of the bill have tried for years, successfully here in the Legislature, to block this bill, to block this proposal," Padilla said. "But what we have seen at a local level is success in advancing this concept."

The plastic bag industry has assailed the legislation and launched a campaign to kill it. A new industry-funded television ad airing starting today depicts the bill as a giveaway to grocers, who will pocket the ten cents consumers would need to pay for paper or reusable plastic bags.

"We see this revenue as serving no public purpose but going to the shareholders of these companies offering bags," said Paul Bauer, a Mercury Public Affairs lobbyist representing the American Progressive Bag Alliance.

Similar criticisms came from the paper bag industry. Kathy Lynch, a lobbyist for the American Forest and Paper Association, called the ten-cent minimum fee "excessive."

"The formula's been the same: Ban plastic, tax paper and leave the money at the retail level," Lynch said.

SB 270 heads next to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

PHOTO: Two clerks fill plastic bags with groceries at the Safeway store in midtown Sacramento on Monday, June 11, 2007. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton.

May 14, 2014
Legislature may give tax relief for underwater mortgages


The Legislature may be breaking up a political logjam over tax relief for beleaguered homeowners who receive writeoffs from lenders for their underwater mortgages.

On Wednesday, the Senate Governance and Finance Committee, by a 5-0 vote, approved a newly amended bill, Assembly Bill 1393, to grant a retroactive income tax exemption for the 2013 tax year for home mortgage debt that is written off by lenders.

If the measure, by Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, is signed into law, however, homeowners who were hit with state income tax levies on the writeoffs will have to file amended returns to gain the relief.

Moreover, the relief in Perea's bill is less generous than the exemption allowed under federal income tax law. There is an upper limit on the amount of the writeoff that can be exempted from taxes and it doesn't apply to mortgage debt that was incurred for non-housing reasons, such as the purchase of a car on a line of credit.

Complicating the matter further, some homeowners who saw the their mortgages written down by lenders did not report the reductions as income because of an Internal Revenue Service letter to California Sen. Barbara Boxer that concluded that it didn't have to be reported.

Last year, the Senate passed a bill granting tax relief for 2013, extending a previous measure that applied to 2012, but not before Senate leaders inserted an amendment that made its enactment contingent on approval of another bill dealing with low-income housing.

The maneuver was aimed at forcing the California Association of Realtors, which backed the tax relief measure but opposed the other bill, to change its position. The Realtors refused to budge and the stalemate left both measures hanging in the Assembly when the session ended.

PHOTO: Assemblyman Henry T. Perea D-Fresno, right, talks with Senator Lou Correa D-Santa Ana, left, as they prepare to talk at a water rally on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

May 13, 2014
Compromise reached on Prop. 13 treatment of business property

JarvisGann.jpgDecades of political wrangling over how Proposition 13, the iconic property tax limit passed by voters in 1978, is applied to commercial property reached a climax of sorts Tuesday in a Capitol hearing room.

During a hearing of the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee, long-warring business groups and tax reformers agreed on modest change of law governing the reassessment of commercial property when it changes hands.

The committee chairman and co-author of the revised bill, Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, D-Pacoima, announced during the hearing that a vote would be postponed, but later, the committee approved it and sent it to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

The compromise, written into Assembly Bill 2372, would trigger reassessment when at least 90 percent of a property's ownership changes in any three-year period. It would not apply, however, to incremental changes of ownership through stock market trades.

Currently, any property is reassessed to market value when a single buyer acquires at least 50 percent ownership in a single transaction. Critics say that's a loophole that allows businesses to avoid reassessment by clever structuring of sales.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, had been pushing AB 2372 to tighten up the change of ownership provision of state tax law, but faced stiff opposition from business groups.

The compromise falls somewhere between current law and Ammiano's original measure and wins support from opposing groups such as the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Tax Reform Association.

It's less than the latter wanted, and also falls well short of a full "split roll" which would completely remove Proposition 13's limits from business property, long a goal of liberal groups. A split roll would require a constitutional amendment.

A full split roll would have, it's believed, multi-billion-dollar impacts, while the change that surfaced Tuesday is, those involved said, likely to have much smaller impacts on both business tax bills and local government revenues.

Ammiano said in a statement the revised measure would "bring back some fairness to the tax system in a way that will benefit all Californians."

Updated at 6:12 p.m. to reflect committee approval.

PHOTO: Paul Gann, left, and Howard Jarvis, hold up their hands on the night of June 7, 1978, as their co-authored initiative Proposition 13, took a commanding lead in the California primary. Associated Press file.

May 13, 2014
On third attempt, Gov. Brown extends peace officer death benefits

JV_042814_RAINY_DAY_FUND080.JPGA day after he stepped down as Assembly speaker, John A. Pérez received a parting gift from Gov. Jerry Brown: A long-awaited signature.

For three consecutive years, Pérez authored bills giving the loved ones of fallen firefighters more time to file worker's compensation claims for workplace-related fatal diseases. Pérez argued that survivors should be compensated for diseases, like tuberculosis and cancer, that deceased public workers contracted on the job.

The governor was not convinced. He vetoed the measures in 2012 and in 2013, both times questioning if denial of benefits was a big enough problem to merit legislation.

This time, Pérez appears to have at last persuaded Brown. In his signing message for Assembly Bill 1035, the governor referenced a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study that better illuminated the scope of the problem.

"A review of this data anticipates that fewer than 20 cases a year throughout the state
would be affected if the provisions only apply to diseases diagnosed during active
service," Brown wrote.

Once the law takes effect, survivors will have 420 weeks from the date of injury to file a claim - far longer than the current 240 week cutoff. The extra filing time ends at the start of 2019 and, in the meantime, the Division of Workers' Compensation will be compelled to collect more data on the repercussions.

The California League of Cities remained opposed to the measure, arguing it would saddle local governments with increased costs.

PHOTO: California Gov. Jerry Brown and Speaker of the Assembly John Pérez speak to an Assembly committee on April 28, 2014. The Sacramento Bee.Jose Luis Villegas.

May 12, 2014
Plastic bag makers air TV ads opposing Padilla's bag ban

RB_Plastic_Bags_2007.JPGThe Capitol's years-long debate over plastic grocery bags is heading to a TV set near you, as a plastic industry association launches an ad campaign Wednesday opposing the latest attempt to ban disposable plastic check-out bags in California.

Under Senate Bill 270, lightweight plastic bags would be banned from grocery stores and customers would pay at least a dime for a paper bag or a sturdier, reusable plastic bag. Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, introduced the bill in January, framing it as a compromise that would satisfy the industry that makes plastic bags and the environmentalists who view them as excessive garbage harmful to wildlife.

The bill allows plastic companies to apply for grants from a $2 million state recycling fund to help re-engineer their operations and make the kind of reusable plastic bags permissible under the bill. Command Packaging, a plastic bag maker in the Los Angeles county city of Vernon, supports the measure.

But major bag makers nationwide remain opposed. Their new ad blasts Padilla for putting "powerful special interests before working families," describing his bill as a giveaway to the grocery stores that will get to keep the 10-cents consumers would have to pay for bags if they don't bring their own.

The ad targets Padilla as he is campaigning in a hotly-contested race for Secretary of State. It calls the bill "Padilla;'s dirty deal," says grocers have paid millions in campaign contributions to state legislators and that Padilla is "paying them back" with the bill to ban plastic bags.

"What's most cynical about this legislation is the massive transfer of wealth from taxpayers to shareholders of the grocery industry association," said Steve Schmidt, vice chairman of public affairs with the Edelman public relations firm, which is representing the plastics industry group known as the American Progressive Bag Alliance.

The industry association has spent almost $646,000 lobbying the California Capitol since 2012, retaining both the Mercury Public Affairs firm and Sloat Higgins Jensen. It is launching an all-out fight against Padilla's bill, commissioning an economic analysis from Tim Gage, the former director of the state Department of Finance, and hiring Schmidt, a GOP political strategist who has worked for John McCain, Arnold Schwarzenegger and George W. Bush.

Schmidt would not disclose how much the group is spending on the new advertising campaign. He said it is timed to begin Wednesday when the Assembly Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to vote on SB 270, and will continue airing for weeks or months depending on the fate of the bill. Sacramento will be the first market to see the ad.

Last year, a Padilla bill to ban plastic bags fell short in the Senate when some of his Democratic colleagues said it would eliminate too many industrial jobs in blue-collar parts of California. In the new version of the bill, Padilla worked to reduce potential job losses by creating the grant program for California factories to change their products and re-train workers.

The opposition that remains, Padilla said, comes largely from plastic bag companies based in other states. He denied the allegations in the ad.

"I don't agree, but I understand their economic interests," Padilla said.

"Just like Texas oil companies don't like our air-quality environmental protection laws in California, it's no surprise that out-of-state plastic bag manufacturers are not fans of this legislation as well."

Hilex Poly and Crown Poly are two of the plastic bag manufacturers opposed to Padilla's bill. Hilex is based in South Carolina, while Crown Poly is in Huntington Park, in Los Angeles County.

More than 90 California cities -- including Los Angeles and San Francisco -- have already banned plastic grocery bags. The grocery association supports Padilla's bill, arguing that stores would be better off working under one policy that is uniform across the state, rather than the mish-mash in effect now.

PHOTO: Courtesy clerks fill plastic bags with groceries at the Safeway store in midtown Sacramento on Monday June 11, 2007.The Sacramento Bee/ Randall Benton.

May 12, 2014
California Senate passes bill banning fundraisers at lobbyist homes


California lawmakers would be forbidden from holding campaign fundraisers at the homes of registered lobbyists under a bill the state Senate passed today.

Senate Bill 1441 by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, seeks to eliminate a loophole in California's campaign finance laws that allows lobbyists to host campaign fundraisers at their homes and offices if the cost of the event is less than $500, even though lobbyists may not otherwise contribute to a political campaign. A prominent Sacramento lobbyist and nearly 40 politicians got in trouble earlier this year with the Fair Political Practices Commission for home-based fundraising events that went past the $500 limit.

In February, lobbyist Kevin Sloat admitted in a settlement with the FPPC that he had hosted luxurious fundraising events at his Sacramento home that exceeded the $500 threshold, including expensive liquors and cigars. Sloat paid a fine of $133,500 for hosting the events, setting a new record for the highest fine ever paid in California for violating the state's lobbying laws. Nearly 40 politicians -- including legislative leaders from both houses as well as Gov. Jerry Brown -- received FPPC warning letters for benefiting from the fundraisers at Sloat's home.

SB 1441 passed the Senate without a single vote in opposition; it now heads to the Assembly for consideration.

PHOTO: Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, talks in March 2014 about his bill to ban fundraisers at lobbyists' homes, part of a package of legislation dubbed the "California Accountability in Public Service Act." The Sacramento Bee/Renée C. Byer

May 9, 2014
California immigrants can get licenses with foreign ID, in-person interview


Foreign government-issued cards, utility bills and marriage licenses could be among the documents immigrants living illegally in California can use to get driver's licenses, Department of Motor Vehicles officials said on Friday.

Immigrant advocates in the Legislature had tried fruitlessly for years to pass a law offering licenses to immigrants in the country illegally, finally succeeding with last year's Assembly Bill 60. Now the debate has turned to questions about what the licenses would look like - a question that brought a federal rejection earlier this week - and how immigrants can obtain them.

Advocates have sought an expansive list of documents immigrants can submit to get the licenses, suggesting everything from labor union cards to baptismal certificates. They have argued that many immigrants arrive in the country without any documentation.

During a Friday press conference, officials described a two-part process: immigrants can establish their identity with government-issued documents like foreign passports, birth certificates and national ID cards.

To prove California residency, immigrants will be able to use things like utility bills, leases, and school or medical records. The current proposed list is not yet finalized so it could be subject to change.

People who can't produce government-issued identity documents will be able to sign up for in-person interviews with DMV officials. There, immigrants could build their case with things like a marriage license, a school transcript or an income tax return. Officials described the interview option as the first of its kind in the nation.

"We heard from individuals that they may not have the more secure documents if you will," said Kristin Triepke, the DMV's policy chief for license operations, and "that is why we are proposing to have our investigative staff conduct this review."

The push to let undocumented immigrants drive legally hit a separate obstacle this week. The federal government rejected California's proposed design. Per a 2005 law intended to deter fraudulent identification documents like the ones terrorists carried on Sept. 11, 2001, IDs for people not in the U.S. legally must be obviously different from regular IDs.

California's pitch, which would feature a different letter on the front of the licenses and a small disclaimer on a back corner, was not sufficiently distinct. Now the California DMV must come up with a new idea and print the licenses in time to have them available for a Jan. 1, 2015 deadline.

"We are working on getting this law implemented from January 1st, and we're continuing on that," said Armando Botello, a DMV spokesman.

PHOTO: People who attended a DMV public hearing on the new licenses, held at the the Secretary of State's building at 11th and O streets on Tuesday, January 28, 2014 in Sacramento, wore this sticker. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench.

May 8, 2014
California Senate switches, supports cell phone 'kill switch'

cellphones.JPGThe California Senate reversed course Thursday, approving a bill it had rejected last week that requires cell phones be equipped with remote "kill switches" allowing owners to disable them when stolen.

Senate Bill 962 pit two influential lobbies against each other -- law enforcement groups who said the measure would reduce crime against technology companies that argued the bill wasn't necessary because they are voluntarily giving customers the option to activate remote disabling.

But some industry objection softened over the last week as the two sides continued negotiations, said the bill's author, Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco. He said he had made a number of amendments that led Apple to remove its opposition. Among them: the bill now only applies to cell phones, not tablets, and its implementation date was pushed out six months to July 2015.

"We're trying to keep our constituents safe on their streets and in their neighborhoods that's why we're here today," Leno said.

SB 962 is sponsored by the San Francisco District Attorney's Office, which reports that more than half of all robberies in the city involve mobile device theft, as do 75 percent of robberies in Oakland.

Republicans in the Senate voiced reservations about the bill, saying they still have concerns about the penalties it includes and potential liability issues for manufacturers that sell phones that do not meet the new requirements.

The bill now heads to the Assembly.


PHOTO: A Facebook employee looks at a selfie of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez on a cell phone, at the Facebook office in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, May 6, 2014. Associated Press/Victor R. Caivano.

May 8, 2014
Lobbyist home fundraiser ban passes Assembly


Responding to a campaign finance transgression that produced an unprecedented fine, the California Assembly voted on Thursday to ban fundraisers at the homes of lobbyists.

Lawmakers demonstrated their eagerness to publicly address a drumbeat of fundraising-related scandals that have hit the Legislature, passing Assembly Bill 1673 without a single no vote or a moment of debate. The final vote was 68-0.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission slapped a record-setting six figure penalty on lobbyist Kevin Sloat in February, saying Sloat had violated the law by directing gifts to lawmakers and throwing expensive fundraising events at his house.

In response, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, introduced legislation prohibiting lobbyists from hosting fundraisers at their homes or offices. That would be far more stringent than current law, which allows such events if lobbyists contribute less than $500 toward the event.

The Senate has also introduced a campaign finance reform package that includes a home fundraiser ban bill by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens. Senate Bill 1441 has passed the Senate Appropriations Committee and awaits a floor vote.

PHOTO: A wine wall holds bottles of wine on an LED illuminated wine rack in a private home on July 9, 2013 in Carmichael, Calif. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

May 7, 2014
Cigarette butt ban bill extinguished in committee


Filtered cigarettes will keep burning in California for the foreseeable future.

An Assembly committee on Wednesday resoundingly voted down legislation that would ban cigarette filters in an attempt to limit litter. The final vote was 2-13.

Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, framed Assembly Bill 1504 not as a public health measure but as a way to fight the scourge of cigarette-generated waste clogging California's waterways and dotting its beaches.

Since research does not conclusively prove that filters protect smokers from lung cancer and other smoking-related diseases, Stone argued, stubbing out the filters would be a public good.

"There's really no health benefit to the smoker to having the filter there, so what I'm trying to deal with in this bill is what happens once the smoker casts aside their cigarette," Stone said.

Stone argued that current anti-littering laws, including a thousand dollar fine for pitching butts into the environment, have done little to dissuade smokers.

"Next time you're driving in the evening and you see that little orange arc flicked out of a car window, recognize that that person who flicked the cigarette out of the window is facing a thousand dollar fine," Stone said. "It's a smoke and toss habit. They will continue to toss."

But other lawmakers on the Governmental Organization Committee said that Stone's tactic was too broad and could carry unintended consequences like decreasing revenue for the state, increasing health and fire risks or shunting more smokers into the black market.

"Even though I agree with you that the cigarette butt is a huge problem in the community I disagree with the approach," said Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, the committee's chair. "There are currently enough fines on the books to address some of the littering issues you have."

Opponents included the California Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, whose representatives argued that a California-specific standard would put a costly burden on businesses.

"It's a de facto ban on smoking in California," said Ken DeVore, a lobbyist with the California branch of the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

PHOTO: In this Feb. 7, 2011 file photo, a soul patch smokes a cigarette in Hialeah, Fla. AP Photo/Alan Diaz.

May 6, 2014
California immigrant license design rejected by feds


The federal government has rejected California's initial design for new driver's licenses to be offered to immigrants in the country illegally, saying the cards fall short of security safeguards.

Immigrant advocates embrace the licenses as a way to ensure immigrants can drive safely and without fear of reprisals. But they have expressed concern about what exactly the licenses will look like, fearing visually distinct licenses will amount to a scarlet letter branding the holder as being in the U.S. unlawfully.

That worry clashes with federal guidelines intended to guard against counterfeit or fraudulent documents. The REAL ID Act, passed in 2005, established minimum standards for drivers licenses and stipulated that licenses for residents without legal status must bear a distinctive marking. In Illinois, for example, immigrant drivers licenses carry a purple band.

California's solution was to have the licenses include the marking "DP," for "driver's privilege," rather than the standard "DL" signifying "driver's license," and language saying the card is ineligible for federal purposes. That did not pass muster.

Instead, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security suggested more obvious markings, like a distinct color scheme or prominent language stating "in machine readable code that it is not acceptable for official Federal purposes."

The DMV will need to reconfigure the design. The bill launching the new licenses requires California to offer the cards by the start of 2015, and the California Latino Legislative Caucus has already urged the agency to hurry things up.

Reacting to Tuesday's news, the caucus released a statement calling the federal repudiation "disappointing and troubling."

"We strongly believe that the design submitted by California satisfies the intent of the law, by including a distinctive mark on the front, and the required statement on the surface of the license," the 24-member caucus' statement said.

The California DMV also released a statement vowing to press forward.

"While we are disappointed by this ruling, the DMV will continue to work vigorously with lawmakers, affected communities and federal officials to design a license that complies with federal law and allows over a million undocumented California residents to drive legally and safely on state roads," the statement said.

Editor's note: This post was updated at 3:01 p.m. to include the California Latino Legislative Caucus statement.

PHOTO: The DMV office on La Mancha Way in South Sacramento, on Wednesday June 27, 2007. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton.

May 5, 2014
Amended California dark money bill passes Assembly


Legislation cracking down on anonymous campaign donations, amended to protect donors who have given money for this election, advanced from the California Assembly on a 56-7 vote Monday.

Lawmakers have sought to rein in secretive campaign spending since out-of-state groups funneled $15 million against Proposition 30 and for Proposition 32 in 2012. Senate Bill 27, by Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, would help that cause by triggering disclosure of the donors when donations hit a certain amount.

"The law needs to catch up with the way in which nonprofits avoid reporting requirements," Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, said on Monday.

The bill hit a snag in the Senate earlier this year. Correa and other backers want the law to be in place when voters hit the polls later this year.

Republicans pushed back, saying the bill would unfairly expose donors who gave money under the assumption they could remain anonymous. Democrats, who with two senators on leave had lost the two-thirds majority needed to move Correa's bill(the two senators and a third alleged lawbreaker have since been suspended), acquiesced and pulled the bill back.

Amendments clarify that contributors who gave money before the law kicks in on July 1 would not be outed under the new disclosure rules.

Now the altered version will go to the Senate, a test of whether the changes are enough to quell the Republican resistance.

PHOTO: Senator Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana during a joint session in the Assembly chambers in Sacramento, Calif. on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

May 5, 2014
South rising again? Not from California's public gift shops, bill says


California is a long way from the Confederacy, but the Assembly took an extra step on Monday to ensure the Civil War's losers can't be honored by government entities.

Under a bill that easily passed the Assembly on a 72-1 vote Monday, state government agencies would be prohibited from displaying or selling Confederate flag imagery. There would be an exception for books that offer "an educational or historical purpose."

Compared to South Carolina, where the decision to fly the stars and bars over the statehouse attracted enormous controversy, the Dixie symbol is relatively rare in California.

Still, Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Los Angeles, unfurled his Assembly Bill 2444 after he said he came across Confederate currency in the State Capitol's basement gift shop. He said the Confederate flag remains a potent symbol of fear and discrimination.

"The state of California should not be in the business of promoting hate towards others," Hall said on Monday, adding that it "would not allow taxpayer resources to be used to market hate towards others."

While agreeing that the flag represents a violent chapter in American history, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, countered that Hall's bill infringes on freedom of speech.

"I am not standing here defending the symbol," said Donnelly, who cast the sole dissenting vote. "I am standing here defending the principle that the First Amendment should apply in all state buildings, of all places."

PHOTO: Marchers making their way along Old State Road are met by Confederate flag supporters Monday, April 3, 2000, near Moncks Corner, S.C. Associated Press/Mary Ann Chastain.

May 2, 2014
For Calderon campaigns, it's all in the family


Sometimes it pays to be part of a political dynasty. Literally.

Former Assemblyman and Sen. Charles Calderon has gotten $60,000 in loans for his campaign to become a Los Angeles Superior Court judge from a single source: his son Ian, a first-term Assemblyman who is the fourth Calderon in the last decade to hold a seat in the Legislature.

"Every Calderon has to get elected," as Charles told The Bee back in 2013, so the son-to-father donations - doled out in three chunks over the last few months - seem consistent with that family mantra. All three passed from the Ian Calderon for Assembly 2014 campaign committee to Charles Calderon for Judge 2014.

The fact that Ian can give away tens of thousands in campaign cash suggests he believes he's in a strong position to win a second term. He does not have any Democratic challengers in the heavily Democratic 57th Assembly District, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly two-to-one.

Nothing about the transaction breaks the law. Unlike with legislative races, there are no dollar limits on donations to a judicial campaign. There's no rule prohibiting one family member from giving directly to another.

"At the end of the day he's my father, and I don't think anyone would have a problem with me helping out my father," Ian told The Bee. "I want to do whatever I can to help him be successful."

This isn't the first time inter-Calderon generosity has shown up on official filings. Charles and his brother Ron, a suspended state senator currently battling federal charges, used their campaign committees to purchase each other Christmas gifts, according to gift disclosure forms.

Ian and Charles have escaped unscathed from a scandal that has engulfed other members of the family of Democrats. Charles' younger brothers Tom and Ron, are both facing federal charges including alleged bribe-taking (Ron) and money laundering (Ron and Tom). Neither Charles nor Ian have been implicated in the case.

PHOTO: Then-Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Whitter comments on the budget on Tuesday, August 31, 2010. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench.

May 1, 2014
Legislative analyst discounts California film tax credit


There is no "conclusive evidence" that California's film tax credit program will reverse the state's recent decline as a venue for film and TV productions, according to a new report from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office.

California has offered $100 million in film and TV production tax credits annually since 2009. Supporters want to extend the program beyond its scheduled July 2017 end date, as well as expand it to increase the number of productions eligible to receive the credit.

Without the credit, proponents say, one of the state's trademark industries will increasingly be at risk of losing productions to Louisiana, Nevada and other states. Of 41 feature-length films made in 2012-13, only two were made in California and nine used California as a secondary location. The other films did all of their filming outside California, according to the LAO's report.

But the analyst's office's report warns of the prospect of an increasingly expensive "race to the bottom" if California tries to match generous TV and film benefits offered elsewhere. Even with the benefits, there is no guarantee that California's share of TV and film production jobs — almost 123,000 in 2004 but 107,400 in 2012 — will rebound.

"If the Legislature wishes to continue or expand the film tax credit, we suggest that it do so cautiously," the LAO reported.

The analyst's office said almost all TV and film production jobs are in Los Angeles County. The report also rejects claims that the state tax credit pays for itself. The LAO estimates that the state's rate of return is 65 cents on the dollar.

The tax-credit program was part of the indictment of state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello. Authorities allege that Calderon allegedly accepted cash and other favors in return for trying to trying to open the tax-credit program to low-budget independent films.

PHOTO: Actor Nicolas Cage testified in 2013 in support of a Nevada bill proposing tax incentives to filmmakers. The Associated Press/Cathleen Allison

May 1, 2014
Senate panel approves bill for illegal immigrant health insurance

healthblood.JPGEstablishing a system of subsidized health insurance for undocumented immigrants in California won conceptual approval late Wednesday from a state Senate committee, but its author acknowledged that he doesn't yet have an "appropriate funding mechanism."

The measure, Senate Bill 1005, would place the new system under control of Covered California, the state's provider of health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act, and offer similar benefits.

California's estimated three million undocumented immigrants are now excluded from ACA coverage, which includes billions of dollars in federal subsidies, and covering them, as Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, envisions, would require many millions of dollars in underwriting funds, but no precise cost estimate has been made.

Lara believes that his proposed system could enroll about a million immigrants, and told the committee he has a team of academic experts working on the financing issue and hopes to have something in hand before his measure reaches the Senate floor.

The Senate Health Committee approved SB 1005 after hearing from dozens of immigrant rights and health care groups. The only opposition came from Californians for Population Stabilization, which opposes illegal immigration.

"California continues to lead where the federal government is failing to act. While we've made enormous strides to reduce California's uninsured population with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, we won't have a truly healthy state until everyone has access to quality, affordable coverage," Lara said in a statement after the committee action.

PHOTO: People who attended an Aug. 30. 2012 health fair in Sacramento, sponsored by the Mexican consul general, had their blood checked for cholesterol and glucose levels. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench.

May 1, 2014
Paid sick leave, rape kits among Assembly Appropriations suspense bills


In an annual ritual, the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Wednesday delayed action on scores of bills, including two dealing with paid sick leave and evidence of rapes.

The Appropriations Committee's suspense file is often the place where bills go to die. Most bills must pass through before getting a floor vote and some of the costlier ones make it no further, ending their journey on the "suspense file."

Among the bills now gathering dust on suspense: a measure requiring more paid sick leave, legislation seeking to limit the use of solitary confinement in California prisons, a bill requiring schools to teach about the Armenian genocide, a bill requiring more timely testing of so-called rape kits and a bill altering the much-disputed fire prevention fee.

Interestingly, one measure placed on suspense was introduced and advocated by the committee's chair. Citing a rash of Los Angeles hit-and-runs Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, authored a bill fortifying penalties for drivers who flee the scene - that bill has also been relegated to the suspense file.

Editor's note: A previous version of this post stated that a final decision on these bills will happen after the state budget is enacted in June. In fact, bills must be passed out of their house of origin by the end of May.

PHOTO: Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D- Los Angeles, leaves a of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011. AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli.

May 1, 2014
Pérez public safety death benefits bill goes to Jerry Brown

Perez.JPGGov. Jerry Brown will once again consider a bill to give more time for survivors of firefighters and peace officers felled by job-related diseases to apply for benefits.

The Assembly voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to advance Assembly Bill 1035, by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles. The legislation nearly doubles the amount of time after a worker falls ill in which family members can seek workers' compensation for work-spurred cases of tuberculosis, cancer and bloodborne infectious diseases.

The legislation addresses the "very real increased risk of certain job-related diseases contracted by California's front-line public safety personnel," Pérez said on Thursday.

Brown rebuffed Pérez's attempts in 2012 and 2013, in both cases citing increased costs and wondering how often family members are locked out of benefits. He said in his veto message last October that the measure was "identical to the one I vetoed last year."

"At that time, I outlined the information needed to properly evaluate the implications of this bill," Brown wrote last year. "I have not yet received that information."

In 2012, Brown questioned whether the instance of family members being denied benefits because the window had closed "occurs other than rarely, yet tragically."

Amendments in the 2014 bill lower the statute of limitations for filing a claim from 480 weeks, the benchmark in last year's bill, to 420 weeks. It also contains language sunsetting the measure in 2019 and directing the Division of Workers Compensation to collect data on whether the bill's window works in the interim.

Otherwise, Pérez said, it is "the same bill that this body passed last year." The measure passed 65-0.

Local government groups were not swayed. An opposition letter signed by the League of California Cities and the California State Association of Counties said the legislation would "create major financial liabilities" and would treat death benefit claims as "a life insurance policy for public safety officers."

PHOTO: Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez speaks about Gov. Jerry Brown's 2014 State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014 at the Capitol. THe Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

May 1, 2014
On second attempt, Muratsuchi HOV bill clears Assembly

muratsuchi.JPGA month after it became an unanticipated proxy in California's affirmative action debate, an HOV lane bill by Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi cruised to passage on Thursday.

Assembly members voted 57-2 to send Assembly Bill 2013 to the Senate. The legislation, which expands from 40,000 to 85,000 the number of low-emission vehicles that can use high-occupancy vehicle lanes, passed without any debate.

Last time the bill arrived on the Assembly floor, lawmakers were still fuming over Democratic leadership pulling a bill that would have allowed voters to overturn Proposition 209, California's ban on race-based university admissions. Asian-American lawmakers had expressed reservations about the measure, and Muratsuchi's bill stalled on the floor as Latino and African-American lawmakers declined to vote.

"I feel I was targeted because of my race," the Torrance Democrat told The Bee after the April vote. "There were members of the state Assembly that wanted to apparently send a message to the (Asian Pacific Islander) caucus. Unfortunately, they failed to recognize that I support affirmative action."

Unlike the last go-round, on Thursday the bill was supported by all Democratic Latino and African-American members who were present for the vote.

PHOTO: Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance is sworn-in as he holds three-year-old daughter Sophia during the first day of session at the Capitol in Sacramento on Monday, Dec. 3, 2012 . The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

April 30, 2014
California livestock antibiotics bill shelved


An Assembly bill curtailing the use of antibiotics on livestock is done for the year.

Drug-resistant bacteria have become an increasing threat, and public health researchers say the widespread use of antibiotics has helped bacteria develop resistance. Assembly Bill 1437 by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, sought to ensure farmers and ranchers give their animals antibiotics mainly to treat illnesses, rather than for preventive reasons.

Mullin has now pulled his measure, saying he lacked the votes to advance it.

"Rather than weaken our bill with amendments which would not address the problem, we opted to table our bill for this session," Mullin said in a press release.

Proponents of Mullin's bill argue that food producers lace feed and water with antibiotics to promote weight gain and compensate for cramped, unsanitary conditions associated with mass meat production.

Agriculture industry critics have countered that producers need the flexibility to treat sick animals and prevent disease outbreaks. Numerous agricultural associations opposed Mullin's bill, including the Agricultural Council of California and the California Farm Bureau Federation.

Still alive is a less far-reaching bill by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, that would put into California law voluntary federal guidelines recommending that farms stop using antibiotics for non-therapeutic purposes like weight gain.

PHOTO: Branded cattle from Mark Beck Livestock wait for branding of about 600 75 day-old cattle at Steffan Ranch on Thursday October 24, 2013 in Lodi, Calif. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

April 29, 2014
Jerry Brown signs tax break for private space companies

SPACEX2OS.JPGGov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation offering a 10-year property tax break to private space companies, his office announced Tuesday.

The bill, which passed the Legislature with bipartisan support, was promoted by its author, Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, as a measure to help California become a hub for the private space industry, including firms such as Hawthorne-based SpaceX.

According to a legislative analysis, Assembly Bill 777 is estimated to result in a reduction of local property tax revenue of about $1 million annually.

Brown signed the bill without comment, but his interest in space goes back decades to when, as governor before from 1975 to 1983, he proposed a $5.8 million communications satellite system. He was mocked for the idea, while proponents said he was ahead of his time.

"I actually wanted to have a state satellite, " Brown said in 2012. "Couldn't pull it off."

PHOTO: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from launch Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Friday, April 18, 2014. Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel/MCT.

April 29, 2014
California lawmakers want to help men change baby diapers


Two bills that aim to give men more access to diaper changing tables in public restrooms cleared a state Senate committee today.

Senate Bill 1358 by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, would require restaurants, movie theaters, shopping centers and other public venues to provide diaper changing tables in the restrooms for both men and women. It would also require state and local government buildings that are being constructed or renovated to put diaper changing tables in the bathrooms for both sexes.

Senate Bill 1350 by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, takes a narrower approach. It wouldn't require retrofits of existing bathrooms, but says that if a business is installing a diaper changing table, it must be accessible to both men and women.

"It requires that public facilities for changing babies' diapers are equally available," Lara said.

The bill accommodates modern families, Lara argued, where men are taking ever-greater roles in child-rearing, and some children are growing up without mothers. Proponents of Wolk's bill said it would help parents by requiring more public changing tables so that they don't have to change diapers on dirty bathroom floors or struggle to try to do it on their laps while sitting in a toilet stall.

Both bills passed out of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee with some bipartisan support. Republican Sen. Ted Gaines of Roseville remarked that when his twins were babies, he got diaper changing down to 18 seconds:

"But I can relate to what you're talking about in terms of where do you change a diaper in a public place?"

PHOTO: A baby has her diaper changed at a program for teenage parents at Chana High School in Auburn, May 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

April 29, 2014
California water bond fight in flux


The drought-driven quest to put a new water bond before California voters has fluctuated over the last few weeks, marked by new measures appearing, old ones evaporating and legislators shifting allegiances.

Lawmakers have introduced no fewer than nine water bond proposals, all vying to replace the $11.1 billion measure that is scheduled for the November ballot but widely believed to have little chance of passage.

Getting a new bond on the ballot would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, which means Senate Democrats would need to find a consensus with their Republican colleagues. But the ever-shifting dynamics in the Assembly so far have suggested that there, too, partisan politics will not be the main divide.

"In the end we're going to need both Republicans and Democrats to come together to pass this bond," Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, said on Tuesday.

April 28, 2014
For California Assembly, April a month to remember

poppies.JPGAt this rate, it's becoming difficult to remain aware of all the things April stands for.

Since the start of the month, the Assembly has passed a range of resolutions making April 2014 an official occasion for awareness or acknowledgment of issues ranging from disease to flowers to microbrews.

On Monday, members opened session with a solemn hour-long ceremony honoring Holocaust survivors and enshrining the Assembly's recognition of Holocaust Remembrance Week. After the session concluded, members proceeded to make April Child Abuse Prevention Month, Parkinson's Disease Awareness Month and Alcohol Awareness Month.

Other Assembly-sanctioned ways to think of the time between March and May 2014 include California Poppy Month, California Craft Brewery Month, Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Mathematics Awareness Month.

Unfortunately, West Nile Virus and Mosquito and Vector Control Awareness only got a week, as did National Multicultural Cancer Awareness.

Other potential April additions to the annals of state-recognized periods of consciousness, like Distracted Driving Awareness Month or School Bus Drivers Day, have not yet gotten votes in the Assembly.

PHOTO: California poppies line along the Michako Trail at the Mount Burdell Open Space Preserve in Novato, Calif., on Thursday, April 10, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/ Manny Crisostomo.

April 28, 2014
Tim Donnelly pushes for concealed carry bill

donnellyccw.jpgRepublican Tim Donnelly, who has made gun rights a centerpiece of his gubernatorial campaign, is pushing for legislation in the Assembly that would expand gun owners' access to concealed carry permits.

His bill, which he promoted at the Capitol on Monday, follows a federal court ruling in February that found the state's requirements for concealed weapons permits too restrictive.

Current state law requires applicants to show "good cause" and gives discretion over the permit process to local law enforcement officials. Donnelly, an assemblyman from Twin Peaks, said that process is "arbitrary and capricious," favoring gun owners who are well connected.

Donnelly said his legislation, which would require the state Department of Justice to issue a concealed handgun permit to gun owners who pass a background check, "would make the promise of our Second Amendment a reality for every Californian."

"A right's not a right if you can't exercise it," Donnelly told reporters at the Capitol.

Donnelly's legislation, Assembly Bill 1563, is unlikely to gain support in the Democratic-controlled Legislature, but it may further bolster his credentials with conservative activists.

Donnelly, the Legislature's most outspoken gun rights advocate, pleaded no contest in 2012 to two misdemeanor charges related to the discovery of a firearm in his carry-on bag at Ontario International Airport. Donnelly has said he forgot he had the gun.

Donnelly said Monday that he has had no personal experience with the concealed carry permit process in California, but that "maybe I would be one of the first people to apply for it under my new law."

Donnelly spoke to reporters ahead of a hearing by the Assembly Public Safety Committee on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the legal status of the state's concealed carry restrictions remains uncertain.

While a three-member panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the state's requirement that applicants for concealed-weapon permits show "good cause," Attorney General Kamala Harris has asked the full court to review the ruling.

Nick Wilcox, with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said Monday that Donnelly's bill would inappropriately remove discretion from law enforcement officials about whether to issue concealed-weapon permits. He described the bill as a "political thing for Donnelly" and said it "has no hope of getting out of committee."

PHOTO: Republican Tim Donnelly speaks to reporters at the Capitol on April 28, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

April 25, 2014
California bill would link immigrant taxes to work permits, deportation defense


Undocumented immigrants would find it easier to file tax returns, and as a result be allowed to remain in the country and work, under a measure by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, prompted in part by Congress' failure to approve an immigration overhaul.

Debates over illegal immigration can often be distilled to a question about resources: whether undocumented immigrants take more, in the form of public services like education and healthcare, than they put back in with taxes.

Those seeking tighter immigration controls argue that immigrants are a drain on the system; advocates counter that the foreign-born pay a substantial share of property, sales and income taxes even when they are in the country illegally.

Alejo wants to keep the revenue flowing with a bill requiring the Franchise Tax Board to advertise the fact that people can obtain an individual taxpayer identification number and use it to file a return. Unlike having a Social Security number, getting a taxpayer ID number does not require citizenship or legal residency.

"They're only looking for a lawful way so they can work, pay their taxes and continue to contribute to California's economy," Alejo said.

But Alejo's ambition goes beyond generating revenue. He wants to link paying taxes with winning work permits and being exempt from deportation, though both would require special permission from the Obama administration. Alejo said his bill is necessary because Congress has not passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

"My bill is trying to continue to put California on the cutting edge, saying because we have failed to act in Congress states like California are trying to find our own temporary solutions to allow immigrant workers to work lawfully in California and to have relief," Alejo said.

The bill would have Gov. Jerry Brown press the federal government to not pursue deportation cases against immigrants who have filed taxes, unless those immigrants have committed serious or violent felonies. Tax-paying immigrants would also be able to enroll in a pilot program offering work permits.

Tax collectors would not be allowed to share tax filing information with other government entities like the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees deportations. There are similar protections in Alejo's 2013 bill offering driver's licenses to immigrants. California also moved to protect immigrants from federal enforcement last year with a law barring authorities from scooping up immigrants detained for minor crimes, and the bill would similarly inoculate immigrants with clean criminal records.

Assembly Bill 2014 goes before the Assembly Revenue And Taxation Committee at 1:30 p.m. on Monday.

PHOTO: Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville during session in the Assembly chambers in Sacramento, Calif. on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

April 24, 2014
California space industry tax break heads to Gov. Jerry Brown


With no debate, the California Assembly on Thursday voted 70-2 to send Gov. Jerry Brown a bill offering a ten-year property tax break to private space firms.

Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, has promoted the bill as ensuring California can become a hub for the burgeoning private space industry, led by firms like Hawthorne-based SpaceX. Reviving southern California's once-mighty aerospace industry has been a recurring theme for Muratuschi, who has also touted the potential of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.

The bill, Assembly Bill 777, passed the Senate easily earlier this month. While Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, had previously warned about favoring a specific industry with a tax break that could prove difficult to erase, the legislation garnered more than enough support on Thursday to advance.

PHOTO: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from launch Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Friday, April 18, 2014. Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel/MCT.

April 24, 2014
Bill requiring mobile phone 'kill switch' falls short in Senate


California legislation requiring a "kill switch" to render stolen smart phones inoperable met a premature death on Thursday.

The measure from Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, fell two votes short of a majority, despite receiving strong support from law enforcement groups and officials.

Senators took up Senate Bill 962 after several leading wireless phone providers such as AT&T and Verizon announced plans to install software allowing customers to delete information and permanently turn off devices. Opponents contended that the bill was no longer necessary.

"When you find yourself in the end zone, declare victory and move on. The industry is voluntarily doing it," said Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar. "One of the biggest criticisms we get in the state is they don't have a 'kill switch' on us when we come up with crazy ideas."

Leno argued the bill was still needed because it would mandate phones made and sold in the state beginning next summer to carry the technological deterrent as a default. Consumers would still have the option to opt-out of the technology.

He said phone makers had opposed voluntarily adopting kill switches — or acknowledge having the capability to do so — over the last two years even as the crime soared. In 2012, more than half of all robberies in San Francisco and two-thirds in Oakland involved mobile device thefts.

"I am not connecting any dots, but let me just state a fact," Leno said. "The industry makes billions, tens of billions of dollars replacing lost and stolen phones each year. They also make many billions of dollars selling you and me insurance in case you are robbed.

"If we end the robbery, there will be an obvious impact to their bottom line."

PHOTO: Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, left, and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, talking to reporters at the Capitol June 19, 2013. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli.

April 22, 2014
California massage fix proposed


Seeking to work out the kinks in California's disputed massage regulations, Assembly members are poised to announce a bill giving local governments broader powers to crack down on wayward operators.

In the years since California transferred oversight of the massage industry from municipal authorities to a centralized state nonprofit known as the California Massage Therapy Council, many cities have witnessed a boom in the number of massage establishments.

Local leaders have complained about their inability to regulate the mushrooming massage parlors, and law enforcement has warned of an expanded risk of illegitimate enterprises selling sex under the guise of physical therapy. In response to those concerns, a trio of lawmakers will unveil a bill Thursday meant to restore some local control.

The bill would delete a provision of the law shielding certain massage parlors from local land use ordinances. Critics of that exemption say land use rules are a critical tool for cities seeking to cap the number of massage establishments in a given area or to prevent new businesses from quickly replacing shuttered parlors. Cities would be empowered to enact additional ordinances governing areas like health code requirements and operating hours.

The legislation also tries to impose more accountability on massage parlor owners. Business managers, not just individual massage therapists, would need to get certified.

Cops and cities would have an amplified voice in massage matters. The California Massage Therapy Council, currently populated by industry representatives, would have dedicated seats for the League of California Cities, the California State Association of Counties, and the California Police Chiefs Association.

Assembly members Jimmy Gomez, Susan Bonilla and Chris Holden are authoring the legislation.

PHOTO: A licensed massage therapist massages a regular client at the Massage Envy Spa at Loehmann's Plaza in Sacramento on February 22, 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo.

April 17, 2014
VIDEO: Dickinson bill seeks crude oil train emergency preparedness


Pointing to the catastrophic derailment in Quebec of a train transporting oil and similar accidents, Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, has unveiled legislation to get emergency responders more information about crude-carrying trains that roll through California.

As the United States reaps the fruits of a domestic energy boom, driven in part by huge volumes natural gas extracted via hydraulic fracturing, the amount of oil transported via rail has grown apace. According to the California Energy Commission, 6.1 million barrels of crude chugged into California on trains in 2013, accounting for 1.1 percent of the amount processed at California refineries.

"It is safe to say that we've all become alarmed with learning about the large increase in certain types of crude oil and oil products that California refineries will be receiving," Dickinson said during a Thursday news conference at the downtown Sacramento train station.

Cities have begun raising the alarm about safety hazards, and officials have testified to Congress that most communities are ill-prepared to handle the aftermath of a derailment. In addition to the deadly derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, oil trains have jumped the tracks and ignited in Alabama and North Dakota.

Now, with a Bay Area refinery planning to move huge amounts of crude oil on a rail line running through downtown Sacramento, Dickinson has proposed legislation requiring railroads to disclose more information about oil shipments to those who would be dispatched to handle a potential rail accident.

"Because of this rapid change in the transportation of crude by rail, state safety rules are simply not what they need to be," Dickinson said.

Currently, railroads don't have to notify cities in advance about their cargo. Trains carrying hazardous materials, like oil or acid, must have warnings stenciled on the side of the cars containing the dangerous commodities.

Under Dickinson's bill, blueprints detailing facts like the volume of oil being transported in a given day; how many cars are being used; and the characteristics of the oil being conveyed would go to local officials. The state agency that now obtains that information would be compelled to share it with local fire and police departments.

"If (responders) know what they're dealing with," Dickinson said, "they've got a much better chance of controlling and containing the incident and also protecting their own lives."

Gov. Jerry Brown has also taken note of the growing risk. Under the governor's budget, the state's Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response would get more money and staff to deal with the growing risk of inland oil spills. As it stands now, the agency responds to oil spills in marine areas.

PHOTO: A tanker truck is filled from railway cars containing crude oil on railroad tracks in McClellan Park in North Highlands on Wednesday, March 19, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton.

VIDEO: The Sacramento Bee/Dan Smith

April 14, 2014
California bill would revamp tax checkoff program


Californians rushing to wrap up their taxes for 2013 can choose from 20 charitable causes to support on their state tax forms.

From sea otters to the California Senior Legislature, voluntary tax form contributions raised about $4.8 million in 2012. More than $102 million has been donated through the program since it began in 1982.

Yet getting on the tax form in the first place requires state legislation, which can cost thousands of dollars in lobbying expenses. Even then, causes and charities regularly drop off the tax form because they fail to meet the state's $250,000 threshold.

Pending legislation would revamp the progrm, with the goal of making it fairer and allowing more charities to tap into taxpayers' charitable impulses.

Senate Bill 1207 by state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, would require charitable organizations to meet certain standards before they could qualify for tax checkoffs. California Volunteers, a state office, would oversee the new program and, along with the Franchise Tax Board, work out its details by 2017, under the measure.

Wolk's bill passed the Wolk-led Senate Governance and Finance Committee last week with bipartisan support.

"We think we can do better and allow more access to the system," Wolk said. The California Association of Nonprofits is among the legislation's supporters.

The bill is opposed by the California Association of Food Banks and California Professional Firefighters. Both participate in efforts that receive money from existing tax checkoffs.

"The hard reality is, you know, the more that are on the list, the more the revenues are shared," said Christy Bouma, a lobbyist for the firefighters union.

Even as lawmakers consider Wolk's measure, there are proposals to increase the number of tax checkoffs for the 2014 tax year. The groups include Habit for Humanity (AB 1765), the Pet Adoption Cost Deduction Fund (AB 2326), and the California Sexual Violence Victim Services Fund (SB 782).

PHOTO: Relatives and friends leave flowers and make rubbings of firefighters' names at the California Firefighters Memorial in Sacramento in 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Renée C. Byer

April 14, 2014
Steinberg plan would dedicate California cap-and-trade dollars to housing, transit


In an effort to more closely manage how California spends revenue from its fledgling cap-and-trade program, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, on Monday unveiled a plan to dedicate ongoing money to affordable housing, mass transit and high-speed rail.

"National and international experts say that the climate problem grows worse, that we have no time to sit back and wait and think about an investment strategy year-to-year or just short-term. Now is the time to grab the moment and create these permanent sources," Steinberg said, adding that his plan would avoid an annual legislative fight over "who's in the front of the line, where is the need seemingly the greatest."

The proposal differs from Steinberg's previous proposal to change the state's system for curtailing carbon emissions. That plan, which the Democratic leader unveiled in February, would have imposed a gasoline tax rather than have industry purchase allowances for greenhouse gases emitted from "non-stationary fuels," a category that includes gas sold at the pump.

Now Steinberg has abandoned that change, shifting his attention from how California prices greenhouse gases to how the state allows levies on carbon emitters to be used. His new plan focuses on funding affordable housing, public transportation projects and the state's divisive high-speed rail project.

The gas tax plan was hit from the left and right. On Monday, by contrast, Steinberg spoke amid a phalanx of backers, including groups representing local government, (the League of California Cities) labor (the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California) and environmental (the Natural Resources Defense Council.)

"We stoked a debate a couple months ago, and a lot of consternation and controversy, and I understand it. But now many of us stand together," Steinberg said.

Under AB 32, the 2006 law that created California's cap-and-trade program, industry must purchase permits for generating the type of emissions blamed for global climate change. After six auctions, the program has generated $663 million for the state so far, according to the California Air Resources Board. Steinberg's office projects the permits could soon bring in $3 billion to $5 billion a year.

Current law dictates that the revenue will flow into a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. From there, entities like local governments and transit systems can apply for some of the proceeds by explaining how they will use the money to reduce overall emissions. One quarter of the money must go to disadvantaged communities, an acknowledgment that some of California's poorest places are choking on poor air quality.

Housing and public transportation sit at the center of Steinberg's proposal. Forty percent of the cap-and-trade revenue would go to affordable housing, including communities built around transit options; 30 percent would subsidize transit projects and 10 percent would fund basic transportation infrastructure like road and highway maintenance, with all three administered through competitive grants.

"Permanent sources of funding for mass transit and affordable housing are key if we are committed to long-term change," Steinberg said on Monday, noting that the two areas "face a catastrophic funding crisis in California" after years of cutbacks.

In addition to those outlays, $200 million a year would go to water efficiency projects, to fuel-related outlays that include rebates on monthly fuel bills, and to accommodating the use of electric vehicles.

California's proposed bullet train would get 20 percent of the money, channeled through a continuous appropriation that would not require year-to-year approval by the Legislature.

Already, Gov. Jerry Brown's has stirred controversy by proposing in his budget for this year spending $250 million from emissions permit sales to fund his financially precarious high-speed rail project, whose funding plan faces legal uncertainty. Some environmentalists have called high-speed rail an inappropriate use of the carbon auction funds.

But Steinberg's blueprint embraces high-speed rail as a tool for reducing emissions — provided, Steinberg said, it is one element of a larger strategy.

"I understand that high-speed rail is controversial," Steinberg said. "If it were the only thing that we were talking about or the only thing on the table I think that would be problematic. I think this is a better approach."

PHOTO: The union oil company refinery in Rodeo, Tuesday, December 17, 2002. The Sacramento Bee Michael A. Jones.

April 10, 2014
No campaign cash for fighting criminal charges, says Jerry Hill


Politicians facing criminal charges would not be allowed to use campaign funds to pay their legal bills under an amendment Sen. Jerry Hill said he plans to introduce in the wake of the indictment of his colleague Sen. Leland Yee on charges of corruption and conspiracy to traffic weapons.

Under current law, politicians have wide latitude on how they spend campaign funds. Expenses have to have a legislative, governmental or political purpose, but can be used for everything from hiring campaign consultants and TV ads, to travel and paying legal bills.

Hill, a San Mateo Democrat, proposes several changes to the rules regarding how politicians can use campaign funds in his Senate Bill 831. Among them: prohibiting officials from giving campaign funds to nonprofits operated by their political colleagues and banning the use of campaign funds for things like rent, utility bills, vacations, tuition and gifts to family members.

(Alert readers may remember that Sen. Ron Calderon, now indicted on corruption and money laundering charges, and his brother, former Assemblyman Charles Calderon have a history of using campaign accounts to pay for their Christmas gifts to each other.)

SB 831 would also place a new $5,000 cap on the amount of travel gifts officials could receive from nonprofit organizations, and require groups providing the travel to disclose their financial donors to the Fair Political Practices Commission. It's one of many ethics proposals to surface this year as the Capitol responds to a string of scandals.

Yee and Calderon have both pleaded not guilty in separate cases.

PHOTO: Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, in March 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

April 9, 2014
Assembly panel sour on bill allowing limited raw milk sales


Citing overwhelming evidence of the health risks, lawmakers on Wednesday rejected a bill that would allow small farms to sell or give to friends portions of raw dairy products.

Assembly Bill 2505 by Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, would allow small farms to sell or give away fresh-from-the-udder, unpasteurized milk without complying with some of the standards that apply to larger dairies.

The bill would only have covered farms with three or fewer cows, or up to 15 goats. Yamada said it is unfair to hold "home dairies" to the same standards that govern commercial dairy distributors, effectively barring small farmers from a long-running tradition of sharing or selling their milk.

"Currently these families who for some generations have been engaged in this practice have no recourse under current state law to offer this raw milk to anyone," Yamada said in testimony before the Assembly Agriculture Committee.

While some raw milk advocates tout the superior taste and health benefits of consuming unadulterated dairy, much of the testimony on Wednesday stressed unburdening small-scale farmers of needless regulation.

"If we continue to undermine and criminalize farmers, who produce food directly farm-to-consumer, California will continue the trend of declining family farms," dairy rancher Doniga Markegard testified.

That argument did not convince committee members. While the chair, Assemblywoman Susan Eggman, D-Stockton, backed the measure on the principle of "people's ability to make their own choices," opponents - including Republicans - said the risk, in this case, outweighed the economic freedom argument.

"If you want to drink unpasteurized milk, buy a cow, milk the cow and drink the milk," said Assemblyman Brian Dahle, R-Bieber. "We don't like to get into what people do at home - that's your business - but when you start selling it, that's our business."

Yamada said her bill would bring small dairies under an umbrella of standards that would minimize the risk of health issues, including rules around storing the milk, annually testing cows, sanitizing milking equipment and ensuring that anyone who interacts with the animals take certain safety precautions.

"We believe that raw milk, when it's responsibly produced, is not inherently dangerous," said Cynthia Daley, a professor of agriculture at the California State University, Chico. "Fresh milk products," she added, "have been part of our staple diet and have been part of many successful cultures over the course of human history."

But medical professionals warn about the risk of spreading illnesses that can hospitalize and in some cases kill. A Centers for Disease Control study found the incidence of outbreaks soaring for raw milk, with unpasteurized dairy products causing outbreaks at 150 times the rate of treated milk products.

"From a public health standpoint, raw milk is a uniquely dangerous product, particularly for the young and the immuno-compromised," testified Michael Payne, a researcher at the University of California's Western Institute for Food Safety and Security. He called Yamada's bill a "public health disaster" for offering to exempt dairy farms from licensing requirements and inspections.

A coalition of health and food industry associations lined up against the measure, including the California Farm Bureau Federation, the California Medical Association and the Western United Dairymen, as did individual dairy companies like Land O' Lakes.

A Murrieta woman named Mary McGonigle-Martin described her then-six-year-old son's "odyssey through hell" after drinking raw milk and becoming hospitalized at a cost of $550,000. She faulted Yamada's bill for failing to adequately guard against the spread of pathogens.

"Just because you are milking three cows doesn't mean a small operation cannot contaminate the raw milk," McGonigle-Martin said.

Lawmakers opposing the bill voiced similar concerns. "I think you are putting your children, particularly those under five, at great risk," Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, told supporters, "and I wish you would stop it.

PHOTO: Cattle belonging to a rancher in Lincoln do some ambling on May 10, 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Renée C. Byer.

April 9, 2014
California Chamber targets 26 bills as 'job killers'


An annual spring ritual continued Wednesday when the California Chamber of Commerce declared 26 legislative measures as "job killers" that should be rejected.

The list is about a third shorter than those of the past, but inclusion of a measure is more than a symbolic gesture. The chamber, often in concert with other business groups, has been remarkably successful in past years in getting nearly all bills with that label either killed in the Legislature, significantly watered down or vetoed.

"The economic recovery is still the number one issue for Californians," chamber president Allan Zaremberg said in a statement. "These bills pose a serious threat to our economy and, if enacted, would dampen job growth in the state."

As usual, the bills on the 2014 list are those most ardently supported by liberal groups, particularly labor unions, environmentalists, consumer advocates or personal injury attorneys.

One of the 26 is already dead for this year, having been sent to "interim study" on Tuesday by the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee. Assembly Bill 2140 by Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, would have phased out orca shows at MarineWorld and other marine parks.

Eight others — six constitutional amendments that would lower vote requirements for local tax increases and two business tax increases — appear to be moribund. They would require two-thirds legislative votes, but the Democrats' supermajority in the Senate has been erased by the suspension of three senators facing criminal charges and Republicans are uniformly opposed to new taxes.

That leaves 17 bills still potentially viable this year.

Two are high-profile measures that embody the "income disparity" credo of Democrats and labor unions in this election year, but that the chamber says would impose heavy costs on employers.

Assembly Bill 1522 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, would require employers to provide workers with paid sick leave. Senate Bill 935 by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, would boost the state's minimum wage, scheduled to rise from $8 an hour to $10 under a bill passed last year, to $13 and tie future increases automatically to the cost of living. Last year's minimum wage hike was the only one of 38 2013 "job killer" bills to make it into law.

This year's list also includes bills that would place a moratorium on "fracking" to exploit oil deposits (SB 1132), give local governments the authority to bar fracking (AB 2420), require labeling of genetically modified foods (SB 1381) and bar employment discrimination against workers who must care for family members (SB 404).

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill allowing fracking of California's potentially huge shale oil deposits with state regulation, dismaying anti-fracking environmental groups. He would be unlikely, therefore, to sign either of the two measures aimed at closing off the practice. Brown has also indicated his opposition to automatic cost of living increases in the minimum wage, so would be unlikely to sign Leno's wage measure were it to reach him.

PHOTO: California Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Allan Zaremberg in 2010. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

April 8, 2014
California orca show ban bill killed for this year

SEAWORLDWHALE.jpgAvoiding a vote on a contentious bill, an Assembly committee on Tuesday deferred until at least next year legislation that would ban captive orca breeding and shows involving the whales.

One of the ripple effects of the provocative documentary Blackfish, which explores the deaths of SeaWorld trainers and concludes they stemmed in part from the park's orca management practices, was Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, introducing Assembly Bill 2140.

Noting the massive interest his bill has attracted and conceding that committee members seemed "unprepared" to cast a fully informed vote, Bloom agreed on Tuesday to hold the bill for an interim study. That process could take more than a year.

"I think that allowing more time for you committee members to really dig into the information that is out there and come to your conclusions in a fashion that allows careful consideration is not a bad idea," Bloom said.

The debate preceding the decision to push back a decision showed how SeaWorld's orcas have become a focal point of fierce debate, raising questions about basic animal conservation practices and spotlighting SeaWorld's economic clout in San Diego.

Testifying before a hearing room overflowing with bill advocates wearing "Sea a New World" stickers, many hailing from throughout California and one of whom said she traveled from Rome for the occasion, Bloom described orcas as unique among mammals given their intelligence and their nuanced social structures. He said prolonged captivity can spur aggressive orca behavior and cause the creatures to have shorter lives than their wild counterparts.

"Science now knows it is not in the best interest of orcas to be held in captivity. They do not thrive and, indeed, they suffer," said Naomi Rose of the Animal Welfare Institute, the bill's sponsor.

April 3, 2014
Jerry Brown signs bill expanding reach of FPPC

Brown_signing_bills.JPGGov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation expanding the power of the Fair Political Practices Commission to investigate or seek injunctions in campaign finance cases, his office announced Thursday.

The bill is one of several proposals pushed forward by lawmakers after outside groups poured millions of dollars into California's initiative wars in 2012.

Assembly Bill 800, by Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, allows the FPPC to begin audits and investigations or to seek injunctions before — rather than after — an election occurs.

Gordon has said the bill would allow the FPPC to act more aggressively, "clearing up concerns about campaigns in real time," and the FPPC cheered the bill's enactment Thursday.

"Today California took a big step towards ensuring that campaign laws are followed before the election, when it matters," Erin Peth, the FPPC's executive director, said in a prepared statement.

The FPPC was at the center of a campaign finance controversy two years ago, probing a network of out-of-state groups that moved money to California to support Proposition 32 — a ballot initiative designed to weaken the political influence of labor unions — and oppose Proposition 30, Brown's initiative to raise taxes.

The California Political Attorneys Association opposed the measure, saying it failed to provide due process protections and is unfair to campaign committees and nonprofit groups under the FPPC scrutiny.

The bill also tightens restrictions around how "subagents," such as purchasers of campaign TV and radio airtime, report their spending.

While Brown signed one campaign finance bill, the author of another, Sen. Lou Correa, is seeking to revive his.

Correa, D-Santa Ana, moved Thursday to amend a bill that would have required nonprofit groups to identify their donors if contributions hit certain benchmarks. The bill was blocked last month by Senate Republicans who objected to an urgency clause allowing the bill to take effect before the upcoming election.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown signs bills in Sacramento on March 24, 2011 as Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco look on. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

April 2, 2014
California Latino Caucus backs bilingual education, paid sick days


Changes to California's health care, education and labor laws are among the bills the Legislature's Latino Caucus will prioritize this year.

Statistics show Latinos are more likely than other Californians to live in poverty, lack health insurance and attain little formal education, caucus chair Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, said in announcing the group's priorities Wednesday.

"Fighting to turn these numbers around is why most of us got into politics and are now in the Legislature. California as a state cannot succeed unless we educate, employ and keep healthy the fastest growing sector of our work force, which is the Latino community," Lara said.

The caucus threw its support behind eight bills, including:

- Senate Bill 1174 by Lara, to place an initiative before voters in 2016 to repeal Proposition 227 and allow public schools to teach bilingual education.

- Senate Bill 972 by Sen. Norma Torres, D-Pamona, to expand the number of people on the state's health exchange board and require some expertise in marketing health plans.

- Assembly Bill 1522 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, to grant workers three days of paid sick leave.

"Studies show that in fact Latino workers in the state of California are 20 times more likely to not have paid sick days than their... Caucasian counterparts," Gonzalez said.

"So this is an important bill not only to low-wage workers, it's a very important bill to Latinos and in particular, single moms."

The California Chamber of Commerce has put Gonzalez's bill on its "Job Killers" list this year, saying the measure increases employer mandates and threatens them with penalties and litigation.

PHOTO: Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, with other members of the Legislature's Latino Caucus on April 2, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Laurel Rosenhall.

April 2, 2014
EpiPen bill advances, with testimony from Natalie Giorgi's mom

giorgi.jpgA bill to increase the prevalence of emergency epinephrine auto-injectors, or EpiPens, in California schools, would not have helped Natalie Giorgi, who died from an allergic reaction after biting into a Rice Krispies treat at Camp Sacramento last year.

The 13-year-old girl died despite the administration of epinephrine.

But Natalie's mother, Joanne Giorgi, told lawmakers Wednesday that access to the medication could help other children.

"You will save a life," she told the Senate Education Committee, which voted without dissent to move the bill forward.

Senate Bill 1266, by Senate Republican leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, would require school districts to give EpiPens to trained personnel to provide emergency medical aid to anyone suffering from a severe allergic reaction. The bill would expand existing law, which allows - but does not require - school districts to stock the medicine.

The proposed legislation is supported by health care and allergy groups, but it is opposed by the California Teachers Association, the California School Employees Association and the California Federation of Teachers.

The CTA said in a letter that it worried about "the potential for probationary or temporary educators and/or classified employees to be 'highly encouraged' to become trained in administering medication against their will."

March 26, 2014
California minimum wage hike clears first Senate hurdle


Legislation that would sharply increase California's minimum wage and index it to inflation cleared its first legislative hurdle Wednesday.

It's doubtful, however, whether Gov. Jerry Brown would sign another minimum wage boost a year after he and the Legislature enacted an increase.

The 2013 legislation raises the minimum wage, now $8 per hour, to $9 on July 1, then to $10 in 2016. Brown signed the increase after insisting that the Legislature remove an automatic inflation adjustment.

The new legislation,Senate Bill 935, is being carried by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and is backed by labor unions and advocates for the poor.

Leno told the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee that another boost is needed to stimulate the economy and combat poverty and the decline of California's middle class. Citing Wal-Mart and other employers, Leno said, "We, the taxpayers, are subsidizing the wealthiest people in this country."

Employer groups, particularly those representing restaurants and farmers, lined up against the Leno measure, saying it would raise their costs, make hiring new employees more difficult and doom some small businesses.

SB 935 would raise the minimum wage to $11 per hour on Jan. 1, 2015, and then $12 in 2016 and $13 in 2017. Beginning in 2018, the wage would be automatically indexed to inflation each year.

It cleared the Senate committee on a party-line 3-1 vote with one Democratic member, Leland Yee, absent. He was in San Francisco to face federal charges stemming from a wide-ranging FBI investigation.

March 18, 2014
Control of car data at stake in Bill Monning bill


Foreshadowing a clash between car makers and a prominent auto insurance company, Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, on Tuesday unveiled a bill to loosen car manufacturers' grip on data generated by vehicles.

Framed by a computer-equipped car parked on the steps of the State Capitol, Monning said his Senate Bill 994 would allow consumers to see what data their car generates and decide with whom they want to share the information. The measure is sponsored by AAA Northern California and its south state counterpart, the Auto Club of Southern California.

"It is your car, it is your data, and it should be your choice," Monning said.

Cars have evolved beyond simple conveyances of steel and rubber into transmitters of data, capturing driver statistics that can include, where and how fast a person drives, the number of passengers in a car to the road tunes a driver is playing.

Currently, car manufacturers control that data. Monning said the bill will let consumers see what information is emanating from their cars and allow them to share it with, for instance, an auto mechanic.

"If I have a car problem, a red light on the dash board, I want to be able to take that to a repair service that with my authority they could access that data to make a repair," Monning said.

The legislation has already prompted a public relations counteroffensive from automakers, who call the bill an insurance industry ploy to gain access to consumer information that could be resold or invoked to raise insurance rates.

"This is about AAA wanting to suck the data out of your car," said Rob Stutzman, who is working for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers on the bill.

In response to those concerns, Monning said his bill preserves a segment of California law that prohibits insurers from using data other than mileage to set rates. Law enforcement could still obtain car data if they went through the necessary legal process.

If a consumer enables another company to see his or her car data, that company could conceivably pass that data along to someone else - but only, Monning said, if the consumer signs off.

"I would expect in that conversation and in that contract, I'd want to make sure they're not going to share it with anyone else," Monning said.

March 17, 2014
GOP blocks California campaign disclosure bill

20130311_HA_JUDICIARY169.JPGWith a single vote to spare, Republicans blocked a California campaign finance reform bill on Monday, demonstrating the limits of a diminished Democratic caucus.

The basic premise of requiring more disclosures of campaign donations is sound, said Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, but he objected to the timeline. The bill carried an urgency clause that would allow it to take effect in July, before the upcoming election.

"We will be subjecting people to a different process," Huff said. "They will not have had time to understand the rules of engagement changed."

Bills amending the Political Reform Act require a two-thirds vote, making them closely watched tests of Democratic dominance. Legal troubles have ensnared two Democratic senators, Rod Wright of Baldwin Hills and Ron Calderon of Montebello, and dropped Senate Democrats below their two-thirds margin.

Last year, when Wright and Calderon still sat in the Senate chambers, Correa's measure advanced beyond the Senate without a single Republican vote. During debate on the Assembly floor in February, Republicans decried a bill they said would muffle dissenting voices and unfairly alter the rules in the middle of an election cycle.

By the time it got back to the Senate to sign off on Assembly amendments on Monday, Wright and Calderon were gone and the GOP was able to block it. Democrats mustered all 26 of their votes, but four Republicans voted no. The other seven GOP members did not vote.

Lawmakers and the California Fair Political Practices Commission have sought to crack down on undisclosed campaign donations since outside groups used an elaborate network of nonprofits to funnel millions into the 2012 election.

Senate Bill 27, by Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, seeks to lift the veil on outside spending by compelling nonprofits to identify their donors if they hit certain benchmarks, such as when the nonprofit spends $50,000 in a given election or donors give at least $100 for explicitly political purposes.

Under the current rules, a nonprofit's initial campaign expenditure - its "first bite of the apple" - does not trigger disclosure requirements. Subsequent spending would require a group to detail its donors, but advocates of tighter rules say outside groups can currently channel a single large, anonymous sum into an election.

Correa argued that donors would have plenty of time to adjust to new guidelines, which would only apply to contributions after July 1. Along with other Democrats, Correa said the legislation would apply giving requirements uniformly by depriving would-be secret donors of a place to hide.

"This bill is about equity. This bill is about transparency," Correa said. "This bill does not limit what you spend but rather says let the world know, let the voters know in a timely basis the source of those expenditures."

PHOTO: Senator Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana during a joint session in the Assembly chambers in Sacramento, Calif. on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/ Hector Amezcua.

March 17, 2014
John A. Pérez halts effort to overturn California's Prop. 209


California voters will not be asked this year to decide whether to roll back California's ban on racial preferences in college admissions, Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez announced Monday.

At the request of Sen. Ed Hernandez, author of Senate Constitutional Amendment 5, Pérez said he is sending the measure back to the Senate without taking any action in the lower house.

"It really is driven most by my interest in making sure we come out with the best policy outcomes," Pérez said.

"And as it's currently written I don't think SCA 5 gives us that. As it's currently written it requires a two-thirds vote of both houses, and those votes don't exist in both houses."

Pérez said he and Senate leader Darrell Steinberg will form a task force to discuss whether California should change the way it admits students to public universities.
The group will include representatives from the University of California, California State University and the community colleges, he said.

The move came a week after three Asian-American state senators -- who had previously voted for SCA 5 -- asked Pérez to put a stop the measure.

"Prior to the vote on SCA 5 in the Senate, we heard no opposition to the bill. However, in the past few weeks, we have heard from thousands of people throughout California voicing their concerns about the potential impacts," Sens. Ted Lieu of Torrance, Carol Liu of La Canada Flintridge and Leland Yee of San Francisco wrote to Perez on March 11.

The measure would overturn part of Proposition 209, which voters approved in 1996, by allowing public colleges and universities to use race and ethnicity as a factor in judging students for admission. Democrats in the state Senate used their two-thirds supermajority to pass SCA 5 in January, sending it to the Assembly for consideration. Since then, Asian-American advocacy groups have been organizing opposition around the state, arguing that affirmative action will help some ethnic groups at the expense of others.

"As lifelong advocates for the Asian-American and other communities, we would never support a policy that we believed would negatively impact our children," Lieu, Liu and Yee wrote in their letter to Pérez.

"Given that many in the (Asian Pacific Islander) and other communities throughout the state feel that this legislation would prevent their children from attending the college of their choice, we have asked Senator Ed Hernandez to hold SCA 5 until he has an opportunity to meet with affected communities and attempt to build a consensus."

Here is a video of Pérez discussing how he thinks Proposition 209 has impacted California's public universities:

PHOTO: : Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles points to the desk of Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose before legislators are sworn in during the first day of session at the State Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. on Monday, Dec. 3, 2012 . The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

Editor's note: This post was updated at 12:39 p.m. to include comments from Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and updated at 1:09 p.m. to include a video.

March 14, 2014
Sacramento legislative races take shape


Forget basketball: it's March Madness for California elections.

The deadline to file for legislative races came and went this week, an election cycle milestone that maps the field for the 2014 campaign season. The Secretary of State still needs to certify the filings, but here's a preliminary look at what we learned in the Sacramento area:

6th Senate District

Two incumbent Assembly Democrats will compete to replace Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who is termed out of at the end of the year.

Assembly members Roger Dickinson and Richard Pan will vie for Steinberg's soon-to-be former post, a race whose outcome will be less predictable with the entry of Republican challengers James Axelgard and Jonathan Zachariou, who ran for Dickinson's seat in 2012. It's a heavily Democratic district, but the presence of some Republicans raises the possibility that either Pan or Dickinson won't finish in the top-two in June and advance to the general.

6th Senate District

By jumping into the Steinberg sweepstakes, both Dickinson and Pan have forfeited their Assembly seats. There's no shortage of prospective state legislators happy to fill the void.

7th Assembly District

Two Sacramento City Council Democrats will seek the 7th Assembly District seat Dickinson now holds: Steve Cohn and Kevin McCarty. McCarty, who has distinguished himself as a skeptic of a new Sacramento Kings arena, narrowly lost to Dickinson in the 2010 primary.

Also vying for the reliably Democratic district is Democratic West Sacramento City Council member Mark Johannessen. Counterbalancing the 7th District Dems are Republican Ralph Merletti, who unsuccessfully sought a school board seat in the Sacramento City Unified school district, and Republican Oliver Ponce.

7th Assembly District

8th Assembly District

In the 8th Assembly District, incumbent Democratic Assemblyman Ken Cooley will fend off challengers from Libertarian candidate Janice Marlae Bonser and Republican Douglas Haaland, who worked as a staffer for Republican members of the Legislature like Phil Wyman and Shirley Horton.

8th Assembly District

9th Assembly District

Then there is Pan's seat in the 9th Assembly District. Like the 7th, the 9th has a marked Democratic voter registration advantage, which should mean a fierce fight between Democratic Sacramento City Council member Darrell Fong, Elk Grove City Council member Jim Cooper and Sacramento City Unified school district trustee Diana Rodriguez-Suruki.

Appealing to the district's conservatives are Republicans Manuel J. Martin, a libertarian-leaning conservative activist, and Tim Gorsulowsky, who moved to Elk Grove in 2012 after a failed write-in bid for the Saratoga City Council.

9th Assembly District

Editor's note: This post was updated at 1:50 p.m. to reflect Merletti's party designation.

PHOTO: Election officials process the ballots by machine as a last step after the hand count at the Sacramento County Elections office on November 13, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Renée C. Byer

March 12, 2014
New ad campaign tells California parents to talk, read and sing


Jack and Jill's climb up the hill received a rare mention at a Capitol press conference Wednesday morning, as several legislators touted a new $9 million publicity campaign to get California parents to spend more time talking, reading and singing with their children.

That kind of face-to-face interaction between parents and small children helps young brains develop and leads to greater achievement later in life, according to research promoted by First 5 California, which uses money from cigarette taxes to offer services for children up to age 5.

The agency is required to spend 6 percent of its funds on mass media efforts. It's spending $9 million on an advertising campaign that launches statewide on Thursday pushing a simple message on parents: "Talk. Read. Sing."

Several wriggly toddlers sat through the unveiling of the ad campaign Wednesday that included Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva leading the room in reciting the Jack and Jill nursery rhyme.

"Why do you remember that? Because you were taught it," said Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton.

"We have entered a decade where many of our favorite rhymes and songs have stopped being taught. We see people on their cell phones. We see people texting and they're not talking. I see moms with their strollers and they're not talking (to their children). They're talking on their phones."

Other legislators used the event to promote their bills on early childhood education. Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, plugged his SB 837 which would create public preschool for all 4-year-olds at a cost of at least $1 billion a year.

"By age 3 kids born into low-income families have heard roughly 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers. That leaves many California children predestined for success or failure before they enter kindergarten," Steinberg said.

As he pointed to the front row of the press conference, where several parents tried to keep their children quiet with bottles and snacks, Steinberg said: "Parents, all parents, should understand that what they choose to do on a daily basis makes a huge difference. And these little ones are never too young to start learning."

PHOTO: Parents and children listen as legislators and advocates in the Capitol introduce a new ad campaign geared at them. The Sacramento Bee/Laurel Rosenhall

March 12, 2014
Ailing holy man would benefit from Corbett bill


Sometimes California lawmakers focus on the little things, crafting locally-tailored legislation known in Sacramento parlance as a "district bill."

But it would be difficult to find a more specifically-aimed bill than Senate Bill 124 by Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, intended for a single monk.

Abbot Archimandrite Theodor Micka, the founder of the Holy Cross Monastery in Alameda County, is gravely ill and nearing the end of his life. But burial permitting requirements make it difficult for Micka to be laid to rest beneath the grounds of the monastery that is the physical manifestation of his life's work.

"There's no where else he wants to be," said Father Stephen Scott, who helped Micka raise the monastery. "It's just where he feels God planted him, and he wants to be buried here."

So they sought the help of some Stanford Law students. The students reached out to Corbett, whose district includes the monastery.

Employing a common bill transforming technique known as gut-and-amend, Corbett slipped language allowing for Micka's swift burial into legislation about clean energy contracts that has already been voted out of the Senate and is ascending through the Assembly.

"A compelling request has been made of me and I feel it's my duty to bring this forward for my constituents," Corbett said, pointing out the Legislature offered a similar exemption for the 2005 burial of a Fresno County spiritual leader. "Under the circumstances, because of his failing health it's important that this move quickly and we're able to grant his request."

PHOTO: Abbot Micka (far left) on July 4, 2009. Image by Popadia Lisa Butrie, courtesy of Father Stephen Scott.

March 11, 2014
VIDEO: Kristin Olsen shows off sweet skateboarding skills

Olsen_skateboard.jpgKicking off her high heels, Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank, demonstrated her skills on an electrically-motorized skateboard Tuesday in support of AB 2054, a bill that would legalize the boards for street use. After a wobbly first run, a barefoot Olsen led the crowd in rides up and down 11th Street across from the Capitol, looking confident enough to give interviews while skating backward.

Early versions of motorized skateboards were prohibited by the vehicle code in 1977 because of concerns over loud and bulky gas motors. Olsen is seeking to allow new electric prototypes, which she said are silent and environmentally-friendly, to operate where bicycles are allowed.

"It's a great, viable transportation option for those short commutes," Olsen said.

She also promoted the job-creating possibilities of companies that make the electrically-motorized skateboards, introducing the founders of ZBoard, a start-up that manufactures its boards in Riverbank, to share their story.

"It just doesn't make any sense to allow an industry to build in California, but not to grow roots here," Olsen said.

PHOTO: Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank, rides an electrically-motorized skateboard across the street from the Capitol on March 11, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Alexei Koseff

March 7, 2014
AM Alert: Cyber-bullying, sexual assault are focus of Sen. Beall bill


Now that merciless teenage taunting has migrated from locker rooms and high school hallways to the Internet, policymakers are paying more attention to the types of harassment and bullying that happens on Facebook and other social media venues.

Citing the role online viciousness seems to have played in the suicide of 15-year-old Audrie Pott, Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, will unveil today a bill he is calling "Audrie's Law." The legislation would criminalize maliciously distributing sexual images and would toughen penalties for sexual assault committed against unconscious or developmentally disabled victims.

Beall will introduce the bill alongside Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, whose office drafted the bill, at the Saratoga Library from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

VIDEO: A Democratic bill package meant to address gift-giving and money reporting doesn't inspire much confidence, Dan Walters says.

DEMS CONVENTION: Break out the business cards and the buttons, because today the California Democratic Party launches its spring 2014 convention in Los Angeles.

We'll bring you more on the confab as it unfolds, but speakers will include Gov. Jerry Brown, Attorney General Kamala Harris, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and Sacramento legislative leaders current (Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez) and future (Assemblywoman Toni Atkins and Sen. Kevin de León). And because who can resist a trip to California, prominent out-of-state attendees will include Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley and San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro.

CAREERISM: Before he gets into convention mode, Steinberg will be promoting a policy that's dear to his heart: career-tailored education. He'll be joined by Los Angeles education officials and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson to discuss the state's new $250 million career-linked learning fund.

THEY SAY IT'S YOUR BIRTHDAY: Happy birthday to Rep. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, who turns 53 today.

PHOTO: A student learns how to type on a laptop computer at River Oaks Elementary School on Thursday, July 25, 2013 in Galt, Calif. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

March 1, 2014
Jerry Brown signs drought relief package

IMG_RB_Drought_1.JPG_2_1_S51JJJUC_L37370981.JPGWith drought conditions still challenging California, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a $687 million relief package Saturday, including money for infrastructure improvements, emergency water shortages and aid to farmworkers.

Brown signed the emergency legislation two days after both houses of the Legislature approved the measure, with nearly unanimous support.

"Legislators across the aisle have now voted to help hard-pressed communities that face water shortages," Brown said in a prepared statement. "This legislation marks a crucial step - but Californians must continue to take every action possible to conserve water."

The legislation includes efforts to improve groundwater management and rainwater capture. It also allocates millions of dollars for communities at risk of running out of drinking water, and includes food and housing assistance for farmworkers whose fields have been laid fallow.

The measure also includes $1 million for a water conservation public awareness campaign.

There was never doubt Brown would sign the bill, which he and legislative leaders proposed just more than a week ago.

The vast majority of the funding, $549 million, comes from water and flood-prevention bonds voters approved in 2006, with smaller amounts from the state's greenhouse gas reduction program and general fund.

Brown declared a drought emergency in January, with the state suffering through a third dry year.

PHOTO: Aerial view of Folsom Lake looking northeast from near Beals Point on Thursday, December 26, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

February 25, 2014
Bill would simplify financial aid for California high school seniors

financial_aid.JPGA bill announced Tuesday aims to make the labyrinthine college application season a little easier for high school seniors.

Seeking to increase access to the state's Cal Grants scholarship program, AB 2160 by Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, would require high schools to electronically submit grade point averages for all graduating seniors to the California Student Aid Commission.

The two-step Cal Grant application, administered by the student aid commission, requires students to fill out the federal student aid form and verify their GPA. Thousands of applications are rejected each year because that second step is not completed.

"We want to do everything possible to streamline that process," Ting said at a press conference, where he was joined by co-author state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo. "We're trying to take one more barrier out of their way."

While many high schools already submit GPAs electronically to the student aid commission, few do so for all graduating seniors and some do not submit GPAs at all.

According to the California Student Aid Commission, more than 230,000 high school seniors completed the financial aid form in 2013, about 50,000 of which were not considered because their GPAs could not be verified. Another 35,000 students had to verify their GPA through an extra paper form.

Orville Jackson, a researcher at The Education Trust-West, said participation in the Cal Grant program is higher at schools that submit electronic GPA verification for all graduating seniors: 71 percent in those districts, as compared to 56 percent elsewhere.

This in turn boosts post-secondary success, Jackson added. "The simple act of filling out a financial aid application increases students' chances of going to college and finishing college."

The Cal Grant application deadline for 2014 is March 2.

PHOTO: Prospective student Eva Vega, left, is counseled by financial aid technician Sonia Diaz during a college workshop at the Mexican Consulate office in Sacramento on February 1, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

Editor's note: This post was updated at 4:22 p.m. to include the number of applications that were not considered because of a lack of GPA verification.

February 24, 2014
Repeal of California transgender student rights bill fails


Efforts to overturn a law shielding transgender students stalled Monday, with advocates of the repeal failing to gather enough signatures to qualify for the statewide ballot.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced the referendum of Assembly Bill 1266 finished about 17,000 signatures short of the 504,760 valid names needed to go before voters.

Proponents of the repeal submitted nearly 620,000 signatures and still have the opportunity to review the rejected names and challenge any they believe were properly excluded.

The bill has become a flashpoint in the debate over supervising school facilities and the latest turn in the state's culture wars. It permits transgender public school students to join athletic teams and access facilities such as bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identities instead of their sex.

Transgender individuals identify with a gender different from their sex at birth. The measure's author, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, said one good thing to come from the "misguided" referendum attempt was supporters were given another forum to educate people.

"It's important that we begin to understand what transgender students are going through. I wish it was just a matter of ignorance. The forces putting this referendum together included the people that make money off promoting hate and professional fear mongers, who took advantage of what other people didn't understand," said Ammiano, D-San Francisco.

"Although it's clear that California is moving in the direction of equality and respect, this does not mean the struggle is over ... The people who belittle the rights of transgender students should know their efforts encourage the bullies. It is their intolerance that allows the violence to continue, and that violence affects every child, not just transgender students. They should be ashamed."

Some school districts have already moved to accommodate their pupils. In December, Sacramento Unified School District approved a policy to extend new rights and protections to transgender students.

Meanwhile, repeal supporters said the fight isn't over.

"Only after the secretary of state announces her count do we get a chance to look at the signatures that were thrown out and begin to challenge those results," proponent Gina Gleason said.

They contend that their collection of 619,381 signatures demonstrated the degree of opposition to a measure that opens sensitive areas to the "opposite sex."

The coalition called Privacy for All Students maintained the law makes other students uncomfortable and infringes on the will of public school parents. Karen England said in the months since the governor signed the bill they have watched the issue grow from another odd California proposal to a national push to sexually integrate bathrooms and locker rooms.

"AB 1266 has highlighted the contrasting approaches of those who believe that public policy should be shaped by an individual's self described sexual identity and those that believe that public policy should reflect sexual reality," England said. "While we have compassion for those who are uncomfortable in traditional, sex separate bathrooms, we also have compassion for those who see their privacy and safety jeopardized when boys and girls are forced to share bathrooms, locker rooms and showers."

The campaign, led by Frank Schubert, who earlier helped run Yes on Proposition 8, has been marked by bursts of drama.

Last month, it moved to the full signature count after county election officials determined it did not have enough valid signatures to succeed by random sample.

That came after Bowen declined to count more than 5,000 signatures from Tulare and Mono counties that came in two days after the Nov. 10 deadline. A judge in Sacramento ruled the late submission was appropriate because Nov. 10 fell on a Sunday and Nov. 11 was Veteran's Day.

Fewer than 50 referenda have qualified for the ballot in the last 100 years.

PHOTO: Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, was the author of Assembly Bill 1266. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

February 24, 2014
Two California bills set up battle over condo conversions

evict.JPGThe introduction of two bills sets the stage for what could be one of the 2014 legislative session's highest octane battles - whether landlords can sidestep local rent control laws and evict their tenants to convert units to condominiums.

It's a burning issue in San Francisco, where evictions and condominium conversions have proliferated due to soaring housing demand from high-income technology industry workers.

The Ellis Act, passed by the Legislature three decades ago in response to a state Supreme Court decision involving Santa Monica's rent control law, allows evictions if landlords are going out of the rental business.

Both of the bills have been introduced by San Francisco Democrats, Sen. Mark Leno and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano.

Leno's measure, Senate Bill 1439, would apply only to San Francisco, allowing that city to prohibit Ellis Act evictions unless the property had been in the same ownership for at least five years.

It's aimed at investment companies that buy rental properties and quickly evict tenants to make condo conversions.

Ammiano's bill, Assembly Bill 2405, would allow any local government to prevent condo conversions if it has not met the state's designated need for housing in the community, particularly the need for low- and moderate-income housing.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee appeared with Leno at a news conference Monday to plug his bill. The state's landlord and real estate lobbies, anticipating that anti-condo conversion legislation would be introduced, have been gearing up to block passage.

PHOTO: Renters and renter rights advocates demonstrated for better protections for renters, the creation of more affordable housing and to end the Ellis Act, during a march at the Capitol on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli)

February 20, 2014
Darrell Steinberg expected to introduce new tax on buying gas

gasprices.JPGSenate leader Darrell Steinberg is expected to introduce a controversial proposal today to place a new tax on drivers buying gas at the pump and divert the money to transit projects and tax credits for low- and middle-income Californians.

The proposal would remove an upcoming requirement that oil companies buy carbon credits for the fuels that they sell to consumers, while leaving in place the requirement that they enter the cap-and-trade market for pollution they produce at their refineries. That would be a change to California's landmark greenhouse gas reduction law known as Assembly Bill 32, written by Sen. Fran Pavley.

"This proposal will say, 'OK fuel sector, you don't have to... reduce your greenhouse gas emissions anymore,'" Pavley said.

"It pokes a big hole in the whole policy of AB 32, of treating all the major polluters equally."

Steinberg declined to talk about details of his proposal before his noon appearance at the Sacramento Press Club. This morning, he said only that he would be making an announcement concerning "climate change and poverty," and that he expected his proposal to spark a vigorous debate inside the Capitol.

Editor's note: This post was updated at 3:12 p.m. to clarify the impact of the proposal on oil companies.

February 19, 2014
Jerry Brown, legislative leaders to announce drought aid


Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders on Wednesday will unveil plans to spend roughly $680 million on efforts to alleviate the impacts of California's drought.

The proposal elaborates on a plan Senate leader Darrell Steinberg had been working on to expedite approval of water recycling and stormwater reuse projects by adding emergency food and housing assistance to farmworkers who will be out of work due to the drought, according to sources familiar with the legislation.

Today's announcement -- set for the Governor's Office of Emergency Services at Mather Field -- comes five days after Brown joined President Barack Obama on a visit to Fresno to talk to farmers about the drought and tout federal assistance including money for livestock losses, watershed protection and summer food programs.

The plan being announced today would direct roughly $475 million toward local governments that are ready to build drought alleviation projects. The money would come from Proposition 84, a water bond voters approved in 2006.

The bill also calls for spending roughly $50 million -- largely from a housing bond voters approved in 2006 -- to provide emergency food and shelter to people who are out of work because the farms they normally work on are fallow due to drought.

Another roughly $40 million from cap-and-trade funds would be spent on water efficiency projects that save energy, while roughly $80 million from a 2006 flood bond would be available for projects that prevent flooding while making more water available for dry times, such as infrastructure to capture storm water.

PHOTO: Farmer Tom Muller walks out to a fallow field at his farm in Woodland on February 13, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/ Randall Benton

Editor's note: This post was updated at 11:55 a.m. to delete a reference to a specific bill number.

February 12, 2014
California bill would ban lobbyists from hosting fundraisers


Reacting to this week's announcement that a Sacramento lobbyist is paying a six-figure fine for making illegal campaign contributions by hosting lavish political fundraisers at his home, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia introduced a bill Wednesday to ban the practice.

Assembly Bill 1673 would prohibit lobbyists from hosting fundraising parties at their homes and offices. Under current law, lobbyists may host fundraisers that cost up to $500 -- even though they are prohibited from making monetary campaign contributions of any amount to candidates for offices they are registered to lobby.

"It really makes no sense that a lobbyist can't buy lunch for a legislator for over $10, but can provide elaborate, exclusive dinner parties simply by stating that it is under the $500 limit," Garcia, a Bell Gardens Democrat, said in a prepared statement.

"As we've seen, these in-home lobbyist events fly under the legal radar and I think that they should be banned."

The Fair Political Practices Commission announced Monday that it has reached an agreement with lobbyist Kevin Sloat -- and his firm Sloat Higgins Jensen and Associates -- to pay a record-setting fine of $133,500 for hosting numerous political fundraisers that exceeded the limits placed on lobbyists. Sloat acknowledged providing liquor, cigars and other hospitality to 37 public officials and candidates, who all received warning letters from the FPPC for accepting Sloat's non-monetary contributions.

Garcia's bill is part of a package of legislation she is promoting as the "Political Conduct, Ethics and Public Trust Acts of 2014."

Other elements include measures to limit how officials can spend their campaign funds; expand the information governments provide about employee salaries; restrict some water board members from making decisions that affect their political donors; and change the way vote-by-mail applications are processed.

PHOTO: Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia in the Assembly chambers in March 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

February 11, 2014
Bill would expand, alter California health insurance board


Citing poor customer service and struggles to enroll Latinos, California lawmakers on Tuesday introduced legislation to expand and alter the makeup of the state health insurance exchange's five-member board of directors.

"Accountability starts at the top," said Sen. Norma Torres, D-Pomona. "After almost three years on the job, it is indisputable this board of directors needs additional expertise to provide oversight of staff in areas where improvement is needed."

Torres and members of the California Latino Legislative Caucus have been among the most vocal critics of Covered California's efforts to outreach to young people and Latinos.

Senate Bill 972 would expand the board to seven members and add four new types of experience to the list of expertise areas: Marketing of health insurance products, information technology system management, management information systems and consumer service delivery research and best practices.

Torres said board members must currently demonstrate command of only two of the following areas: Individual health care coverage, small employer health care coverage, health benefits plan administration, health care finance, administering a public or private health care delivery system and purchasing health plan coverage.

February 3, 2014
California's school money fight heads to new venue

kirst_blog.jpgThe Office of Administrative Law is an obscure branch of the governor's office that was created more than three decades ago, during Jerry Brown's first governorship, to ensure that rules issued by state agencies comply with the law.

That function makes it the next venue for opponents of the state Board of Education's newly adopted rules governing the expenditure of billions of extra dollars meant to enhance the educations of poor and "English learner" students.

It's Brown's pet education reform and he supported the state board's embrace of "flexibility," giving local school districts leeway in determining how best to spend the extra money on the targeted kids, who are nearly 60 percent of the state's six million K-12 students.

However, critics - civil rights advocates and business-backed reform groups - say that the flexibility could mean that the additional spending is diverted into other uses, such as raises for teachers. And one of the opposition groups, EdVoice, is asking the Office of Administrative Law to declare that the new rules - which are technically emergency regulations - violate the authorizing legislation enacted last year.

EdVoice has submitted a letter to the OAL, detailing how it believes that the state school board acted beyond its statutory authority.

"The unlawful elements must be cured and ambiguities must be resolved within the formal rulemaking process," Ed Voice president Bill Lucia told the OAL.

PHOTO: Michael Kirst, president of the California State Board of Education. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

January 29, 2014
Drone, commercial space flight bills passed by Assembly


The transformative potential of new aerospace technologies repeatedly became the focus of debate for the California Assembly on Wednesday.

Lawmakers overwhelmingly passed bills to cultivate California's burgeoning private spaceflight industry and to give more clarity to local agencies hoping to use unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, commonly referred to as drones.

"The right answer is to embrace this technology because it is the future," said Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, after noting that other states have weighed outright bans on drones.

Assembly Bill 1327, sponsored by Gorell and two others, establishes the situations in which sheriff departments and state agencies can deploy drones. Law enforcement could use drones to monitor parks and forest fires without a warrant, for example, and non-law enforcement entities could obtain and use drones as long as they notify the public.

"Drones are going to be extremely important for hot pursuit, which is allowed in this bill, for search and rescue and, when you get a warrant, for continuous surveillance" of a location, said Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, a joint author.

The bill also addresses some of the privacy concerns spurred by the increasing prevalence of unmanned systems by requiring agencies to destroy drone-collected data within six months if it is not part of an ongoing law enforcement investigation. It would ban weaponized drones.

A separate measure by Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, would codify a ten-year tax break for properties used by the private space flight industry.

"With this bill California can grow and permanently establish this exciting new industry in our state," Muratsuchi said.

While members from both parties overwhelmingly backed Muratsuchi's bill, it drew criticism from Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, who warned about enshrining a tax break that could become difficult to dislodge.

A former San Francisco assessor-recorder, Ting referenced California's 1972 decision to offer tax relief to the then-nascent software industry, a decision Ting says has come back to haunt policymakers. He noted that removing tax exemptions require a two-thirds majority.

"I'm not saying that we shouldn't help SpaceX or the space industry," Ting said, referencing a Hawthorne-based firm, but he warned about setting a precedent in which "we'll be back here for some other giveaway for some other industry."

PHOTO: The Yamaha RMAX remote controlled helicopter sprays water over a vineyard at UC Davis' Oakville station in Oakville on Wednesday, June 5, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/ Randall Benton.

January 27, 2014
Second try for bill to extend deadlines for sex abuse lawsuits


A three-page veto message from Gov. Jerry Brown isn't stopping Sen. Jim Beall from his effort to allow victims of molestation more time to sue their abusers.

The San Jose Democrat said today that he plans to introduce two new bills on the issue later this week, despite the unusually long veto message his SB 131 got from the governor last year. In rejecting Beall's measure to extend the statute of limitations for civil suits against abusers, Brown wrote that limiting the window of time for seeking retribution goes back to Roman law and is an issue of basic fairness.

SB 131 was one of the most heavily lobbied bills of 2013, with the political arm of the Catholic Church working hard to defeat it. Opponents argued the bill unfairly went after abusers in the private sector while not allowing victims of public institutions any additional opportunity to sue. Supporters said the extra time would allow people who had suppressed memories to seek justice when they are recovered.

Beall said his new bills -- one addressing criminal law, the other civil law -- include some major changes he hopes will satisfy the governor. Instead of opening up an opportunity for past victims to sue their abusers, the new bills would address future cases. The bill changing the civil statute of limitations would apply to both public and private entities, and change the current age cut-off from 26 to 40 for victims to sue.

"Hopefully he'll find more agreement with these two bills that look forward prospectively in terms of the statute of limitation laws, similar to Minnesota, Illinois, Florida and other states, as opposed to the previous bill, which looked backwards," Beall said.

"These two bills both apply to any and all people, not public versus private. That issue has been dealt with in these two bills."

PHOTO: Senator Jim Beall, D-San Jose, in the Senate chambers on March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

January 23, 2014
Deal reached on new California bill to regulate plastic grocery bags

RB_Plastic_Bags_2007.JPGDisposable plastic bags would be banned from grocery check-out stands in California and consumers would pay at least a dime for a paper or re-usable plastic bag a under a compromise proposal negotiated with key opponents of last year's bill to ban plastic shopping bags.

Lawmakers plan to unveil the deal tomorrow at a Los Angeles-area manufacturing plant.

Senate Bill 270 seeks to temper some manufacturing industry opposition by providing $2 million from state recycling funds. Plastic bag makers would be able to apply for grants to re-train their workers or re-engineer their operations to make plastic bags that meet new criteria spelled out in the bill.

The legislation is a joint effort by Sen. Alex Padilla -- the Los Angeles Democrat who authored last year's failed attempt to ban plastic bags -- and two of his colleagues who killed that bill, Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, and Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens. De Leon and Lara both have plastic bag factories in their districts and said last year that Padilla's SB 405 would eliminate too many jobs for their working-class constituents.

The three senators plan to introduce their new proposal at the Command Packaging plant in Vernon tomorrow, along with labor and environmental leaders.

Under their proposal, consumers would pay a minimum 10 cent fee for every shopping bag. Only plastic bags that meet certain thresholds for containing recycled content and being strong enough for more than 125 uses would be available in California. Re-usable plastic bags for sale in California would have to contain at least 20 percent recycled plastic, a bar that would go up over time to 40 percent, said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste.

"We're trying to develop a criteria for an evolving market place," he said.

The bag requirements would take effect at large grocery stores in 2015 and at pharmacies and liquor stores in 2016.

PHOTO: Courtesy clerks Christia Johnson-Williams left, and Heather Roberts fill plastic bags with groceries at the Safeway store in midtown Sacramento on Monday June 11, 2007. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

January 21, 2014
California lawmaker lobbies against 'jab at my husband'


It's not often you see a lawmaker lobbying her colleagues to kill a bill because she thinks it insults her husband. But that's what happened Tuesday as Sen. Carol Liu made the rounds on the Senate floor asking fellow senators to withhold their votes when Senate Bill 434 came up.

Liu, a Democrat from La Cañada Flintridge, is married to Michael Peevey, chair of the powerful Public Utilities Commission. The bill she was trying to kill would bar future PUC chairmen from sitting on the boards of nonprofit organizations created by the commission that regulates utility companies in California.

"I don't think the bill has anything to do with public policy," Liu said after the vote. "I think it's a jab at my husband, period."

Peevey sits on the boards of two nonprofits, which the PUC created as part of PG&E's 2004 bankruptcy deal and the mergers in 2005 of four major telecom companies. Chairing the commission that regulates the industry while sitting on the boards of the nonprofits the commission created is a conflict of interest, says Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo.

"You're taking public money that has transparency in public, it has full oversight, it has full accountability, and turning it over to a nonprofit where their actions, and future fundraising, is all behind closed doors," said Hill, who carried the bill Liu tried to kill Tuesday.

"To me, it's a clear conflict of interest that should not be allowed to continue into the future."

January 21, 2014
Bill would require California employers to give paid sick days

Lorenaswearingin.jpgHourly workers in California would be able to accrue paid sick days under a bill introduced by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego.

Gonzalez cast Assembly Bill 1522 both as a financial security net for workers and as a public health measure. She noted that many workers who do not receive paid sick days work in the food industry, where sick workers risk infecting consumers, or with more vulnerable populations such as young children and the elderly.

"If you're an hourly worker and you're sick you have to choose if you're going to pay the bills or take a day off," Gonzalez said, noting that single mothers face a challenge caring for sick children if they cannot take a day off.

The measure would require California employers to give paid sick leave to employees who have worked at the job for at least 90 days. Employers could cap each worker's total sick days at three per year.

Gonzalez said guaranteeing sick days would also diminish health care costs, both by preventing diseases from spreading for lack of treatment and by not requiring workers to resort to emergency care, Gonzalez argued.

"We know that it's about four times more expensive when a mother takes her child to the emergency room after hours rather than being able to take time to take them to a doctor to prevent further sickness or address sickness," Gonzales said.

While the California Chamber of Commerce has not yet taken a position on the bill, they and other business interests have opposed similar efforts in the past. A series of paid sick day bills by former Assemblywoman Fiona Ma could not attract enough votes to overcome pro-business arguments.

PHOTO: Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, receives applause from lawmakers as she walks down the center isle of the Assembly to take the oath of office at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, May 28, 2013. The Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli.

January 16, 2014
Sandra Fluke says women's issues go beyond abortion


Liberal women's rights activist Sandra Fluke urged a roomful of 600 policymakers and advocates in Sacramento today to work on issues beyond abortion access, touting efforts to provide fertility treatment to injured veterans, health care to transgender people and additional payments to women who get pregnant while receiving welfare.

"If you believe in a woman's right to decide it's not the time to have a child, then you also believe in her right to decide that it is time to have a child," Fluke, a lawyer, said during a speech at the California Women's Policy Summit.

The comment was a reference to Senate Bill 899 by Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, which seeks to overturn a law that forbids women who get pregnant while on welfare from receiving additional payments if she has the baby.

"We should never lose sight of our core fight — the ability to have access to the abortion care that we need," said Fluke, who gained nationwide attention in 2012 when radio commentator Rush Limbaugh called her a slut after she testified before congressional Democrats in favor of health plans covering birth control.

"This doesn't mean turning away from the fights we've historically fought, but it means making sure we are moving to these new frontiers," she said.

At that point Fluke broke out in a sweat, said she was feeling dizzy and sat down. Seated next to her were Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara. They tended to Fluke with glasses of water and napkins dipped in ice. After several minutes, Fluke took off her jacket and returned to the podium.

"What did you learn about women's health at this conference?" Fluke said. "That it's important to eat breakfast and lunch."

Then she complained that her high heels were hurting, took off her shoes and offered some advice to the audience before finishing her speech in bare feet:

"Reject ridiculous beauty standards," she said. "Wear shoes that don't make you feel like you're going to fall over when you're giving a speech."

PHOTO: Lawyer and women's health activist Sandra Fluke at a campaign event for Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, in October 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling

January 10, 2014
California lawmaker seeks health care for undocumented immigrants


Immigrants who are in California illegally would qualify for health insurance under a bill Sen. Ricardo Lara plans to introduce.

Details of the plan have yet to be worked out. But Lara, a Democrat from Bell Gardens who chairs the Legislature's Latino Caucus, issued a statement today saying he intends to introduce a measure this year.

"We've made enormous strides to reduce California's uninsured population with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, but we won't have a truly healthy state until everyone has access to quality, affordable coverage," Lara's statement says.

"Immigration status shouldn't bar individuals from health coverage, especially since their taxes contribute to the growth of our economy."

The federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, excludes undocumented immigrants from being able to purchase health care through the new marketplaces states created for selling insurance. After the federal health care program is completely rolled out, experts predict that 3 million to 4 million people in California -- many of them undocumented immigrants -- will not have health care.

Some California counties offer health care to undocumented immigrants, but access varies around the state. Lara aims to make health insurance available statewide, but has not yet announced exactly how the goal would be achieved. Neither a bill number nor a cost estimate were available Friday.

Health advocacy groups have been pushing the message for the last year that undocumented immigrants should be able to participate in the federal health care plans. In last year's budget fight, they advocated unsuccessfully for funding for county-level insurance for the undocumented.

PHOTO: California Senate President Pro Temp Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, speaks with Senator Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, in the Senate chambers on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

January 8, 2014
Transgender rights referendum moves to full signature count

BB PROP 8 RALLY 056 Frank Schubert.JPGActivists seeking to repeal a law that aims to protect transgender students will have to wait until next month to learn if their effort qualifies for the statewide ballot.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen said Wednesday that the referendum of Assembly Bill 1266 will move to a full count of signatures due by Feb. 24. Bowen's announcement comes after county election officials determined the repeal did not have enough valid signatures to qualify by random sample.

The full count was triggered by about 3,000 signatures. It would have needed more than 72,000 additional valid signatures to avoid another count and qualify for the ballot outright.

Privacy for All Students, the proponents of the referendum, argue the law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year would make students uncomfortable and infringe on the will of parents. They described their efforts as centering on safety and privacy. The campaign is managed by Frank Schubert, who helped lead the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign.

The new law allows transgender students in public schools to join athletic teams and access facilities such as bathrooms that correspond with their gender identities. Authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, it was held up by supporters as a needed protection for students who suffer humiliation and bullying.

PHOTO: Frank Schubert, adviser for effort to repeal a transgender rights law, was campaign manager for the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign. He is shown here at a news conference at the Riverside Wesleyan Church in Sacramento, CA, Monday Oct. 20, 2008. The Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer

January 6, 2014
VIDEO: Stories to watch as California's 2014 legislative session begins

The champagne has been uncorked and imbibed, the calendars flipped and the soon-to-be-broken resolutions crafted: 2013 has passed into history.

All of which means Sacramento is preparing for the 2014 legislative session. Things officially gets started when legislators return to the state Capitol today.

The coming legislative year will be marked by leadership transitions in both houses; tests of a Democratic supermajority that looming elections could erase; disputes over how to spend a fiscal windfall; wading into water wars; and the ongoing turmoil around a state senator who is under the FBI's microscope.

As we get ready to embark on another legislative odyssey, here are some of the stories we at Capitol Alert are watching.

January 2, 2014
Judge orders Calif. to accept signatures in fight over transgender student bill

school bathroom file.pngA Sacramento County Superior Court judge ordered the California secretary of state Thursday to accept about 5,000 disputed signatures collected in a referendum effort by opponents of California's new transgender student law.

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen had refused to accept petitions received in Mono and Tulare counties, saying they arrived after a November 10 deadline. In a tentative ruling, Judge Allen Sumner said because Nov. 10 fell on a Sunday and the following Monday, Veterans Day, was a holiday, petitions received the following day should be considered filed in time.

"Ever since the voters enacted the referendum power in 1911, courts have liberally construed its provisions to protect the voters' power," the judge wrote. "The fact the deadline for submitting petitions falls on a weekend preceding a holiday, or the county registrar closes a noon on Friday, should not prevent Petitioner from having her petition signatures accepted."

Bowen's office said it will comply with the decision.

The new law allows transgender students to use the school facilities and join school teams that reflect the gender they identify with.

Opponents attempting to qualify a referendum for the ballot need more than 500,000 valid signatures statewide. The ruling comes as counties sample signatures to estimate the number that are valid.

"It is a shame that we had to go to court to assure that the citizens of Tulare and Mono would not be disenfranchised by the arbitrary actions of the Secretary of State," Gina Gleason, a proponent of the referendum, said in a prepared statement.

PHOTO: A new law allows transgender students to use the school facilities that reflect the gender they identify with. The Sacramento Bee file photo/Renee C. Byer

December 20, 2013
Roger Hernandez to seek district elections for California cities


Arguing that the change would make city elections in California more fair and representative, Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina, is pushing to swap citywide elections for district-based affairs.

Under yet-to-be-introduced legislation, non-charter cities with more than 100,000 residents would be required to have voters select council members by district. Present law allows cities to have council elections citywide or by district.

The rationale is that citywide election results don't always reflect demographics, particularly in municipalities where substantial minority populations have failed to translate into equally diverse city councils.

"This bill would adhere to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by providing underrepresented groups throughout California an opportunity to have their voice represented," Hernandez said in a press release. "In certain communities, the voice of the electorate has been watered down limiting the power of significant populations."

If enacted the change would affect 27 cities across California, including Hernandez's home base of West Covina, spokesman Primo Castro said. A separate list compiled by Paul Mitchell, president of the firm Redistricting Partners, used data from the U.S. Census to determine that California contains 23 cities that have more than 100,000 residents and presently hold at-large elections.

The type of electoral mismatch Hernandez is targeting has generated legal challenges in multiple cities. Anaheim has reportedly entered into settlement talks for a lawsuit, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, arguing that the city's all-white council belies the fact that Anaheim is majority Latino.

Similarly, Los Angeles Superior Court judge Mark Mooney ruled in July that Palmdale's at-large city council voting system violates the California Voting Rights Act of 2001.

Mooney handed down a separate ruling in November ordering Palmdale to dissolve its current city council, saying its members were selected by "an unlawful election," and have voters elect new representatives in a district-based special June election. Assistant city attorney Noel Doran said Palmdale plans to appeal.

Since they are charter cities, Anaheim and Palmdale would not be encompassed by Hernandez's law.

Mitchell's list of cities that would be affected by the law includes Antioch, Concord, Corona, Costa Mesa, Daly City, El Monte, Fairfield, Fontana, Fremont, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Murrieta, Norwalk, Ontario, Orange, Oxnard, Rancho Cucamonga, Richmond, Santa Clarita, Simi Valley, Temecula, Thousand Oaks and West Covina.

A separate review of population data by The Bee suggested that Rialto, a non-charter city of more than 100,000 residents with an at-large election system, may also belong on the list.

PHOTO: A woman leaves her polling place after voting at the Timber Creek Lodge at Del Webb's Sun City in Roseville. Calif. on Tuesday, November 6, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling.

December 19, 2013
Steinberg proposes $50 million for treating mentally ill criminals


Democratic state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg wants California to spend $50 million on programs that try to keep mentally ill criminals from re-offending.

The proposed legislation calls for bringing back a program that existed for about 10 years in California. The "Mentally Ill Offender Crime Reduction Grant" program allows counties to apply for funding to support mental health courts, substance abuse treatment, and employment training programs. Those efforts would reduce recidivism and crowding in California jails, Steinberg said, and help mentally ill people become more stable.

"We are trying to bring back something that was a great success in the late 90s early 2000s that went away as a result of the budget cuts," Steinberg said during a press conference this morning, where he was backed by law enforcement and mental health care leaders.

"We do not have a specific funding stream dedicated to providing mental health services to people in jail that continue once they leave jail and get into the community... We had that before, prior to 2008. We want to reinstate that and make it part of our overall approach."

Steinberg said lawmakers should treat California's projected budget surplus with an approach that dedicates one-third to paying down debt, one-third to reserves and one-third to spending.

"We shouldn't be shy about saying that there are areas of public investment that we must make, that are important," he said.

Speaking in support of Steinberg's proposal today were Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson; Sacramento County's Chief Probation Officer Lee Seale; Sacramento County's mental health director Dorian Kittrel and Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna.

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, in March 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

November 13, 2013
California sentencing commission could be coming, Ammiano says


The prospect of a renewed push for a statewide sentencing commission surfaced during a Wednesday hearing on California's criminal justice system.

Under a federal court order to reduce crowding in California's prisons, Gov. Jerry Brown last year introduced a bill to buy the state time by allocating $315 million for new inmate facilities. Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, backed that plan, while Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg rallied his caucus behind an alternate proposal calling for an advisory sentencing commission.

Many lawmakers supported an eventual compromise bill containing the $315 million reluctantly, casting aye votes even as they decried the federal order and questioned the wisdom of pouring more money into incarceration.

Speakers at Wednesday's hearing of the newly created Assembly Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment, which grew out of Brown's bill, described less costly alternatives to incarceration, including special courts for drug offenders and the mentally ill. But Cristine Soto DeBerry, chief of staff to San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, said the most pressing need is finding a way to even out sentencing practices that can vary dramatically across California.

DeBerry said California should follow the lead of other states and create a sentencing commission, something she said "really goes a long way to help guide the hand of a prosecutor and a judge."

"I am so with you on that," Assembly Public Safety Committee chair Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, replied, "and we will be presenting something like that in January."

In a followup interview with The Bee, Ammiano said that past attempts to launch a sentencing commission have been thwarted by disagreements about who would sit on such a panel. But he said he is determined to try again, and suggested that prison realignment presents an auspicious backdrop.

"There's a lot of fodder here not only in terms of prison overcrowding but the rehabilitative part, which we've neglected for a long time in sentencing," Ammiano said, pointing to "a lot of imbalance around sentencing."

Sentencing reform also entered the discussion on Wednesday as speakers mentioned the possibility of converting more crimes into "wobblers" that can be charged as either misdemeanors or felonies. Brown this year vetoed a bill that would have made simple drug possession a wobbler, saying in his veto message that the prison spending bill positioned California to "examine in detail California's criminal justice system, including the current sentencing structure."

When Robin Lipetzky of the Contra Costa County Public Defender's Office brought up the governor's veto, Ammiano quickly interjected.

"We're working on him," Ammiano said.

As prison realignment shuttles offenders from the state's bursting prisons to its jails, continuing to rely on sentences that do now allow for treatment and rehabilitation risks replicating California's prison dilemma, said Santa Clara Judge Stephen V. Manley.

"If we just ship this problem to the counties and overcrowd the jails," Manley said, "then we'll have another 58 lawsuits."

PHOTO: Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, during session in the Assembly chambers in Sacramento, Calif. on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

November 11, 2013
Contributions flow to help repeal CA transgender rights bill

US_NEWS_GAYMARRIAGE_1_OC.jpgCalifornia activists targeting a law that aims to protect transgender students were aided by a flurry of late contributions, according to campaign finance reports filed with the state Monday.

Privacy For All Students, proponents of the referendum to overturn Assembly Bill 1266, announced this weekend they had submitted 620,000 signatures - roughly 115,000 more than the minimum - to qualify for the 2014 ballot. Organizers previously said they were confident about reaching the requisite number of signatures but endeavored to get thousands more to serve as a cushion.

Campaign Manager Frank Schubert said he believed the referendum had a good chance of qualifying for the ballot, but he expects it to be close either way.

"The validity rate of volunteer signatures is considerably higher than those for a paid signature drive," Schubert said in an emailed statement. "Historically, elections officials invalidate a significant percentage of signatures but many of our volunteer petitions have a validity rate of over 90 percent. We will be completing our internal validity checks over the next few days, but we believe the referendum has a good chance of qualifying. It's likely going to be very close one way or another."

November 8, 2013
Effort to overturn transgender bathroom law down to the wire

KJPATROLBATH.JPGProponents of a referendum to overturn a California law protecting transgender students are rushing to gather and deliver a final pile of signatures before their deadline Sunday.

The group Privacy For All Students sent out an email Friday morning estimating that it has the minimum number of signatures to qualify the measure but warning that organizers need tens of thousands more to serve as a buffer against signature challenges.

"What each of us does in the next day and a half will determine the outcome of this referendum qualifying effort, and it will reveal just how much we are willing to do in such a crucial battle," the email reads.

If backers collect at least the requisite 504,760 signatures, the Secretary of State's Office would then instruct county elections officials to run a random sample to determine what percentage of them are valid. The result determines whether a full check of signatures is required. If the referendum is qualified for the ballot, the law would be suspended until voters can weigh in.

Authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, the targeted law allows transgender students to use the school facilities, and sign up for the sports teams, that match their gender identities. Supporters cast it both as a needed protection for transgender students who endure bullying and ridicule and as a way to enshrine tolerance in the law.

Republican opponents denounced the bill as a radical measure that puts students in an awkward position and undermines the will of parents.

The proposed ballot measure isn't the only challenge from the right to new laws on the books. On Thursday, proponents were given clearance to begin collecting signatures for two proposed referenda to overturn two other measures.

The first, by Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, allows nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwifes, and physician assistant to perform certain types of early abortions.

The second, by Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, eliminates separate building standards for primary care clinics that offer abortions.

Backers have until Jan. 7 to submit petition signatures to county election officials.

PHOTO: Parents of Granite Bay High School students check for signs of smoking in the bathroom during lunch on Aug. 31, 1999. The Sacramento Bee/Kim D. Johnson.

November 4, 2013
Oil industry treated California legislators to $13K dinner as fracking bill loomed

20110114_AA_THE KITCHEN002.JPGAs negotiations heated up at the end of the legislative session over a bill to regulate hydraulic fracturing in California, oil companies poured millions into lobbying the Legislature, quarterly reports released last week show.

The three interest groups that spent the most money lobbying in California between July 1 and Sept. 30 were oil and gas companies: Chevron ($1,696,477), the Western States Petroleum Association ($1,269,478) and Aera Energy LLC ($1,015,534), according to filings with the secretary of state.

Nearly $13,000 of the Western States Petroleum Association's spending went toward hosting a dinner for 12 lawmakers and two staff members at one of Sacramento's poshest venues: The Kitchen, known for its interactive dining experience where guests sit in the kitchen as cooks share details of the five-course meal. Moderate Democrats seemed to be the target audience for the treat: Assembly members Adam Gray, Henry Perea and Cheryl Brown attended, as did Sens. Norma Torres, Ron Calderon and Lou Correa.

The dinner was held on Sept. 4, as Senate Bill 4 was awaiting a vote on the Assembly floor.

The next day, environmental groups sounded the alarm that the oil industry was pushing to weaken permitting regulations in the bill by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills. As amendments were taken in the following days, environmental groups withdrew their support. A week later, the bill passed through the Legislature. Gov. Jerry Brown signed it on Sept. 20.

Third quarter reports show that KP Public Affairs, which represents the Western States Petroleum Association, was the top-billing lobbying firm in California for the period, bringing in $1,658,459.

For Perea, Correa, Calderon and Torres, the September dinner was not the first time they'd been treated to The Kitchen by the oil industry. They were among 11 legislators who attended a Western States Petroleum Association dinner there last year, valued at nearly $11,000.

PHOTO: Randall Selland, owner and executive chef of The Kitchen restaurant, holds fresh-caught lobster at his Sacramento restaurant in January 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Andy Alfaro

October 14, 2013
Jerry Brown finishes bills for the year, signing nearly 9 in 10

20110914_ha_jerry_brown_bills_31994.JPGGov. Jerry Brown was reviewing bills in the courtyard outside his Capitol office one day this month when, during a break, he lamented the time required by "these damn bills" and suggested his inclination to sign many more of them was waning.

The economy, global warming and water and high-speed rail infrastructure all demanded his attention, he said.

"Those are all big issues," Brown said, "and then on top of that you have the endless desire of the Legislature for more and more activities or interventions or spending or law."

As Brown looked over to a table where a stack of bills and his advisers were waiting, he remarked on the Legislature's "pent-up desire" and said, "Going forward, there could be more 'No's.'"

In the following days the Democratic governor would veto legislation to ban the sale of certain semi-automatic weapons and to make some drug crimes "wobblers." He vetoed 12 bills on Saturday, including a measure to extend the statute of limitations for some sex abuse victims, and on Sunday he vetoed 18 more.

But for all his complaints about the deluge of legislation, by the time Brown finished acting on this year's legislation, he had accommodated the Democratic-controlled Legislature on all but about 11 percent of the bills it sent him.

The final count for the year, according to the governor's office: 800 regular session bills signed, 96 rejected.

Over the course of his career, the third-term governor has now signed more than 13,500 regular session bills.

After the final bills were dispatched on Sunday, Brown's press office posted a photograph on Twitter of Brown's desk. The chair was empty, a pen left behind.

"Festina Lente," the tweet said, or make haste slowly.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown prepares to sign a bill on Sept. 16, 2011, near his office in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

October 13, 2013
Jerry Brown vetoes bill to give Medi-Cal interpreters union rights

RB_Jerry_Brown_Budget.JPGGov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation Sunday that would have given thousands of Medi-Cal interpreters the right to join a public employee union and bargain collectively with the state.

Assembly Bill 1263, by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, would have established a certification process and registry of medical interpreters, a measure proponents said would better regulate a service that is critical to patients who do not speak English.

But the bill was also significant to labor unions that believe implementation of the federal healthcare overhaul will result in a wave of new patients and medical professionals they hoped to add to their union ranks.

The Democratic governor avoided the matter of collective bargaining in his veto message, focusing only on the bureaucracy a new certification process would require.

"California has embarked on an unprecedented expansion to add more than a million people to our Medi-Cal program," he wrote. "Given the challenges and the many unknowns the state faces in this endeavor, I don't believe it would be wise to introduce yet another complex element."

The legislation was backed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and opposed by the National Right to Work Committee.

The bill would have given Medi-Cal interpreters the right to vote to unionize as non-public employees who are ineligible for state pension or other benefits.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown discusses the state budget at a news conference at the state Capitol in Sacramento in January. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

October 13, 2013
Jerry Brown vetoes inclusionary housing bill

JM_INFILL_TERRASSA_BUILD.JPGGov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation Sunday that would have authorized cities and counties to establish inclusionary housing requirements as a condition of development, allowing them to force developers to set aside units for low-income residents.

Assembly Bill 1229, by Assemblyman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, would have effectively overturned a 2009 ruling by the 2nd District Court of Appeal that an affordable housing requirement in Los Angeles conflicted with state law that limited local rent control ordinances. The court ruling left inclusionary housing policies statewide in doubt.

In his veto message, the Democratic governor recalled his experience as mayor of Oakland and questioned the effectiveness of inclusionary housing policies.

"As mayor of Oakland, I saw how difficult it can be to attract development to low and middle income communities," he wrote. "Requiring developers to include below-market units in their projects can exacerbate these challenges, even while not meaningfully increasing the amount of affordable housing in a given community."

He said the California Supreme Court is currently weighing whether cities may require inclusionary housing in new developments and that "I would like the benefit of the Supreme Court's thinking before we make adjustments in this area."

The bill was backed by low-income housing advocates and the League of California Cities. It was opposed by the California Building Industry Association and apartment associations.

Proponents of the legislation said inclusionary housing policies are necessary to make homes affordable for poor people and to create diverse neighborhoods. Opponents said the bill is a form of rent control that would hurt the construction industry.

PHOTO: Houses go up in a south Sacramento infill project south of Franklin Boulevard and Mack Road on Dec. 13, 2006. The Sacramento Bee/ Jay Mather

October 13, 2013
Jerry Brown vetoes public safety death benefits bill

brownmemorial.JPGGov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation Sunday that would have extended the statute of limitations for survivors of public safety officers to file a workers' compensation claim for death benefits.

Assembly Bill 1373, by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, would have extended the time limits for survivors' claims for injuries while on duty to 480 weeks from 240 weeks in cases involving cancer, tuberculosis or blood-borne infections diseases.

Brown vetoed a broader version of the bill last year, and in vetoing an unrelated bill Saturday regarding the timeliness of sex abuse victims' claims, the Democratic governor delivered a virtual treatise on the significance of statutes of limitation.

In his veto message, Brown said the measure is "identical to the one I vetoed last year."
"At that time, I outlined the information needed to properly evaluate the implications of this bill," he wrote. "I have not yet received that information."

In his veto a year ago of Assembly Bill 2451, Brown said there was "little more than anecdotal evidence" available to determine how to balance "serious fiscal constraints faced at all levels of government against our shared priority to adequately and fairly compensate the families of those public safety heroes who succumb to work-related injuries and disease."

This year's bill was backed by labor unions representing firefighters and law enforcement officers, who argued existing law fails to provide for the families of firefighters or law enforcement officers who die from a work-related disease more than five years after being diagnosed.

Opponents included the California State Association of Counties and the League of California Cities. They argued the bill would increase local government costs by millions of dollars.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown attends a memorial ceremony for law enforcement officers on Monday, May 6, 2013 in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

October 13, 2013
Jerry Brown signs prevailing wage bill for charter cities

AA_NO_NATOMAS_FIRE_station_30_DRILL.JPGCalifornia will withhold state funds from charter cities that do not pay prevailing wages for local public works projects under legislation Gov. Jerry Brown signed Sunday.

Senate Bill 7, by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, was backed by labor unions who argued prevailing wage requirements protect middle-class jobs and ensure high-quality public works projects.

The League of California Cities and other opponents framed the legislation as a test of Brown's commitment to local control - a principle the Democratic governor has invoked frequently in other legislative and policy matters.

About 50 charter cities in California have provisions exempting contractors from paying prevailing wages.

PHOTO: A carpenter works on a fire station being constructed in the Sacramento area on Aug. 27, 2004. The Sacramento Bee/ Andy Alfaro

October 13, 2013
Jerry Brown vetoes bill for AWOL state employees

jerrybrownprisons.jpgGov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation Sunday that would have granted state employees a better chance of being reinstated if they are fired for being absent without leave.

Existing California law allows state workers to be AWOL for five days without explanation before they can be terminated, but they can be reinstated if they explain to an administrative law judge why they were absent and failed to get leave.

Assembly Bill 855, by Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino, would have required the California Department of Human Resources to reinstate an AWOL employee if he or she was terminated before being absent for five days.

"This bill seeks to remedy the rare circumstance when the state misapplies the absent without leave statute, forcing both the state and the employee to go to court to resolve the dispute," the Democratic governor said in his veto message. "In these cases, both the state and the employee incur both delay and significant expenses. This does not make sense."

Brown said he is directing his administration to reinstate employees in the "limited instances" in which an employee has been improperly dismissed" under the AWOL statute.

The bill was backed by Service Employees International Union Local 1000. Proponents argued it would strengthen due process rights for state employees. Republicans and a handful of Democratic lawmakers opposed the measure, which critics called an excessive benefit for state workers.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks to reporters at a news conference at the Capitol on Sept. 9, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

October 12, 2013
Jerry Brown vetoes restriction on paid signature gatherers

Brownprop30sign.jpgGov. Jerry Brown vetoed labor union-backed legislation Saturday that would have limited the use of paid signature gatherers to qualify statewide ballot initiatives in California.

PHOTO GALLERY: Track key bills. See what Brown has signed or vetoed.

Assembly Bill 857, by Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Cupertino, would have required anyone seeking to qualify an initiative for the statewide ballot to use non-paid volunteers to collect at least 10 percent of signatures.

The measure would have excluded from the 10 percent any signatures collected using direct mail, while counting signatures gathered by an employee or member of a non-profit organization.

Critics said the bill would give labor unions, with their large memberships, an unfair advantage in California's initiative wars.

In his veto message, Brown said "the initiative process is far from perfect and monied interests have historically manipulated it at will."

But the Democratic governor, who was successful in Proposition 30, his own initiative to raise taxes last year, said "requiring a specific threshold of signatures to be gathered by volunteers will not stop abuses by narrow special interests - particularly if 'volunteer' is defined with the broad exemptions as in this bill."

He said the measure "falls short of returning to the citizen-driven system originally envisioned in 1911," the year California adopted the initiative process.

The bill was supported by the California Labor Federation and several other union groups. According to a legislative analysis, proponents of the measure said it would preserve the intent of the initiative process by ensuring measures have broad community support.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association opposed the legislation, saying it would make the initiative process more difficult in part because of cumbersome record-keeping it would require.

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Jerry Brown campaigns for Proposition 30 at Sacramento City College on Oct. 18, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

October 12, 2013
Jerry Brown vetoes 'biosimilars' drug bill

brownsandiego.jpgGov. Jerry Brown on Saturday vetoed a controversial bill that would have regulated how pharmacists distribute a new type of drug called "biosimilars" once they are approved by the federal government.

Senate Bill 598, by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, would have required pharmacists to notify prescribing doctors when substituting a biosimilar for brand-name biologic products, including vaccines and complex medications for diseases such as cancer.

Brown said in his veto message that he supports the use of biosimilars, and he appeared to be perplexed by the controversy surrounding the requirement that pharmacists notify prescribing physicians when using them.

"This requirement, which on its face looks reasonable, is for some reason highly controversial," Brown wrote. "Doctors with whom I have spoken would welcome this information. CalPERS and other large purchasers warn that the requirement itself would cast doubt on the safety and desirability of more cost-effective alternatives to biologics."

Brown said that because the federal government has not yet issued standards for the use of biosimilars, the legislation "strikes me as premature."

The bill was heavily lobbied, supported by drug companies and opposed by several health plans and manufacturers of generic drugs. Companies on both sides donated money to the Democratic governor's re-election campaign account after the Legislature sent Brown the bill.

Supporters had said the regulation would protect consumers, while opponents said it would hinder access to low-cost replacements.

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at an event in San Diego on Oct. 10, 2013. AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi